“This is great guys! Isn’t this great?!”
It’s early December. Ian and Dave, trainers from the rehab gym, trudge ahead of me. With each step, their footprints fill up like little ponds. They’re heading out to get lunch, and I’ve tagged along so I can practice walking in the snow.
My usual gym workout goes on hold while we take this 2-block journey to the local convenience store. In hiking boots, I step into snow as deep as my ankles. Holding Ian’s sleeve, I slide down curb cuts. The cold, moist air smells like a skating rink. Slippery or not, this is FREEDOM.
Wearing a prosthesis in the snow can be daunting, but with these guys along, I’m not afraid to take chances. When we reach the convenience store, the wet floor inside feels much more hazardous than all the white stuff outside!
Ian and Dave are not as enthralled with the weather as I am. On the way back, they shiver patiently while I try big steps and small steps, spot the tracks of a baby bird, and leap puddles the size of the Delaware River. Surprisingly, my Genium leads the way!
Finally in the gym parking lot, I throw my first snowball in 3 years. Mission successful. And I’m just warming up…
January passes. Outside my window, the city is a snow globe. Shovels scrape the sidewalk, plows roar by, plans get cancelled. For Valentine’s Day, Mother Nature dumps 6 more inches of snow on Philly. In the last 2 winters, she’s been gentle and kind. But now, for my 3rd year as an amputee, she declares, “No more kid gloves. You can handle this!”
I’m not so sure.
Schools close for 2 more days in a row. By the third day I’m restless. But do I dare venture out ALONE?
As I’m weighing the pros (and mostly) cons of leaving my apartment, my computer beeps. Kelly, a fellow amputee, posts on Facebook that she has just shoveled her driveway. Go Kelly!! It’s just the spark I need. I lace up my boots, start the car, and steer out of the garage. Fortunately, I don’t even have a driveway to shovel!
The streets are snow-covered as I head across the city. When I find a parking space, cars drive by, splashing my door with heavy slush. Nervously I sit in the driver’s seat, waiting to get out. I watch the side-view mirror till I can’t see any more headlights coming. The time is NOW. In one swift motion, I unlatch the door and swing out my Genium. I make my way toward the sidewalk sliding my gloves along the edge of the car. My heart is pounding. I hate being this close to traffic, especially on such a slippery day.
Uh-oh. A foot-high snowdrift blocks the curb. If I step into it, I know I won’t be able to get my Genium out. (Walking in deep snow is like marching, a skill I still haven’t mastered.) I inch along the parked cars until I reach a shoveled-out space at the corner.
There, I face the next obstacle — a 20 foot stretch of sidewalk that looks more like the arctic tundra. I draw in a deep breath. With shaky steps, I begin shuffling forward like I’m walking on glass. I try to land each foot as light as a snowflake. One false move could cause an avalanche. That avalanche could be ME.
Snow limits my stability, confidence, and independence. It can make me angry and frustrated. But I’ve started this journey, and I don’t want to turn back. If Kelly can do it, maybe I can too. I push ahead.
The month of March comes in with an ice storm.
Sleet glazes the road as I make my way to a doctor’s appointment. I could have canceled, but I know the office will be open. Incredibly, Philly has begun to IGNORE winter. We’ve tucked it under our chin like an itchy gray blanket. It’s gotta end sometime, right?
The tires of my little Honda spin on the slushy street. Behind me, an impatient SUV honks its horn and then races by. Really, dude? Days like this remind me how dangerous the world can be.
In Center City, I drive round and round, casing the area for a clear sidewalk. Finally, I locate one. I plod my way up 16th Street, step by delicate step, zig-zagging to avoid icy patches. I keep my eyes to the ground. In the distance I hear an ambulance siren, but I keep putting one foot in front of the other. I don’t dare turn around.
When I reach the corner of Walnut Street, I spot a young woman picking her way over a puddled pothole. A black Velcro brace immobilizes her left leg. She’s trying to maneuver through this mess on CRUTCHES.
When she reaches my side of the street, I motion for her to go ahead. “Thanks,” she says.
“No problem,” I answer. “Crutches are terrible in this weather!”
“I know,” she says. “I’m just trying not to fall!”
We walk a few paces together. I tell her I’m an amputee, but luckily I can use a prosthesis rather than my crutches. By her side, I feel able-bodied and sturdy like my Genium has snow tires. As we reach our separate buildings, I wish her well.
I guess sometimes the universe sends you just what you need. Along with 56 inches of snow, this winter has given me lot of PRACTICE. Now if we could just top it off with spring!
Practice makes perfect… Got any tips for walking in the snow?
For more winter adventures, check out my blog at www.my-1000-miles.blogspot.com.