The first time I stepped outside in my prosthesis, I nearly blew over.
I pushed open the glass door of my prosthetist’s office, and a gusty breeze did the rest.
“Watch out for the wind!” Prosthetist Tim called after me.
It was April 2011, five months after the bicycle accident that left me as an amputee. I was just a sapling back then, a wobbly stranger in a scary, new world. I was easily shaken and unsteady on my feet. The wind could blow me away.
My first two years as an amputee were daunting and dangerous. I underwent 15 surgeries and seven hospitalizations. On the most painful days, I questioned whether my roots would ever survive in this new soil. But slowly, I began to heal. With excellent therapy and a high-tech prosthesis, I gradually returned to work. I learned to bike and skate again. I walked more than a thousand miles!
I guess you could say I finally began to blossom.
This autumn marks the fourth anniversary of the accident. November 9th, to be exact. Each year I’ve done something different to mark that day. On the first anniversary, my nurses and doctors invited me to walk around the hospital campus. That was Mile 160 on my journey. On the second anniversary, my school organized a two-mile walk with students, teachers, and parents around the streets of Philadelphia. That was Mile 785.
And last year on November 9th, my friends and I hiked Ricketts Glen, a steep, slippery trail of waterfalls in central Pennsylvania. That was Mile 1414 — the hardest hike I’ve ever done on one leg or two!
For the past four years, autumn has been a season of both remembrance and celebration. I remember my life BEFORE, and I celebrate my life AFTER.
Appropriately, it’s also a season of thankfulness. This year, I plan to crunch through red and gold leaves in my Genium. I plan to meander through a pumpkin patch, stepping over every twisted vine. I plan to walk laps around my neighborhood, breathing in the frost of the evening air. This year, I’m more thankful than ever, and I plan to savor every moment!
I’m not a sapling anymore. After months and years of nurturing, I can finally say my roots are firmly planted in the ground. And what’s more, my branches reach out in all directions!
I’ve built a Healing Garden at the hospital where I was once a patient. Every week, I join my neighbors for “game night.” I do yoga. I work out on the treadmill and rowing machine. I mentor new amputees. I teach students. I shop for groceries. I run errands. I play with my nieces and nephews. Life is full again.
This autumn, I’m not just growing. I’m ready to harvest!
Remember the story of the first Thanksgiving? The pilgrims were saplings in their new world. Yet through lots of hard work, they discovered a way to grow, and share what they grew. It wasn’t easy. They didn’t sprinkle magic seeds overnight. But they survived – and began to thrive.
Now I’m celebrating a new life too. One built with people, patience, and practice – not to mention some awesome robot parts! It’s different from the life I had. But it’s a rich life. My branches are spread far and wide. And I don’t take one inch of that growth for granted!
As an amputee, you learn to live with victories and losses. Steps forward and steps back. Your journey is uniquely yours. But hopefully with strength, diligence, and a dose of good weather, you’ll find your harvest too.
By the time the season passes, I will have reached another milestone: the fourth anniversary of my accident. I don’t know how I’ll celebrate this year, but I do know what I’ll celebrate.
The autumn harvest. And the all the bounty that goes along with it.
For autumn adventures, check out my blog at www.my-1000-miles.blogspot.com