A few days ago I went to my very first running and mobility clinic. Did you read that sentence and think, “I don’t know what that means?” Well, neither did I, until Sunday. I just knew that I had heard wonderful things about CAF (Challenged Athletes Foundation), the organization who hosted the clinic along with Össur (a company that creates prosthetic equipment).
When I showed up, I told the people standing
behind the check-in booth, “I don’t have a running blade, and I really don’t run at all, soooo I don’t know if this is actually for me.” They were incredibly kind and welcoming, assured me it was fine, and handed me my T-shirt to wear for the day. Suddenly I realized, “oh my gosh, I am going to have to run in front of a group of strangers. I am about to look so foolish.”
I’m not sure what came over me, but I felt an irrational surge of anger and started tearing up as soon as I put the “participant” t-shirt on. I felt like I had returned to field day or gym class from my early public school years. While a lot of my classmates loved those school days, I always associated them with dread and humiliation. For the first few moments of the clinic, everything in me suddenly rebelled against the idea; no kidding – I text my roommate and almost left on the spot.
Then, I was approached by Lily, a 15 year old amputee, who started with, “I don’t mean to sound weird, but I follow you on Instagram!!” Immediately I recognized her after she told me her name. I remembered our brief messages – we are both patients at Bulow Orthotics and Prosthetic Clinic in Nashville.
Lily is sweet, sassy, hilarious, and full of life. Essentially, she’s exactly what I needed to snap out of my bratty mood. Yes, the day would be out of my comfort zone. Even so, maybe it’s exactly what I needed. I’ve talked about learning how to run for years, but I’ve also refused to try several times when asked. Maybe learning in front of people who didn’t know me and had zero expectations was the best solution.
Now, you may be thinking, “Amy, you kick box. Stop being dramatic – it’s literally just running. Why is it such a big deal?” And you know, maybe I have made it too big of an obstacle. For me though, running has always held a deeper level of insecurity than I’ve often been willing to voice out loud. Bear with me for a moment while I try to explain.
Sometimes I think it’s easy to look at someone who uses a prosthetic, or has some kind of disability, and have an unspoken (and perhaps subconscious) assumption that they have this extra layer of thick skin that makes them impervious to feeling embarrassment. Sure, learning how to run in front of strangers is difficult, but prosthetic-users are used to adapting, so it’s all okay.
And I would agree to an extent. Something happens after you’ve fallen flat on your face a million times because of your prosthesis. After awhile, you don’t really give 2 sh**s about the small stuff (pardon my French). Do I post embarrassing videos of myself on Instagram? Yep. Do I care? Nope. I’ve had far more embarrassing experiences because of my leg, most of which were completely out my control. It helps me not sweat the small stuff and care so much what I look like.
Sometimes, though, I don’t feel so strong and confident. To look at it from a different perspective, being pushed out of my comfort zone can be excruciating, and I’ll be so bold as to speak for other amputees as well. I don’t want people to look at me and say in a sympathetic tone, “look at her, she’s TRYING! She’s doing sooo good!!!!”
Ignore the fact that I’m missing a leg.
I’m a 27 year old female living in 2019. I want to be successful and have men find me attractive and to actually BE athletic, not just to get a participation award.
So yeah, it’s pretty physically exhausting for the 16 year old kid who had his leg amputated and is now learning how to use a running blade for the first time ever. But first and foremost, he’s a regular kid, with regular feelings. In some ways, the physical aspect is the easy part. Watching your classmates run circles around you and remembering that you used to be able to do that, but instead are now forced to face how clumsy and slow and awkward you can feel, is 1000 times worse than any physical pain.
To speak from personal experience, a lot of my struggle growing up with a prosthesis had nothing to do with the physical challenge. Yeah, it can be painful and tiring. But you know why I refused to even play with my friends in pick-up sports games all through grade school and beyond? Because I was a teenage girl, who just like everyone else, wanted to get attention from boys and feel competent. The idea of running and looking foolish, or tripping in front of a guy I thought was cute, or worst of all, having my classmates PITY me, made it easiest for me to decide to just not play. If I couldn’t do it well, I wouldn’t do it at all. Call it stubbornness, I call it being human.
So now that we’ve established that running is my metaphorical Everest…how was my day at the CAF clinic? Was it difficult? Was it fun? Was it draining? Was it frustrating, or rewarding? Am I glad I went?
The answer is yes, to all of the above. (I know, I know, so cliche.) Practically speaking, it was great to learn from people who actually understand the biomechanics of how to run with a prosthesis. To be given specific, step by step instruction was something I’ve never had before, and it was extremely helpful.
At the end of the clinic, I was left with a whole lot to process and think about, most of which involved me reconciling memories from certain not-so-fun childhood experiences. (Good grief I sound dramatic. Y’all know I had a wonderful upbringing and awesome family. Everyone’s just got their stuff, ya know?)
I realized I do actually want to run (it’s not because I think I should learn how). Truth is, I loved you the feeling of running. Plus, there’s nothing quite like learning how to overcome something I had always perceived as impossible in my mind. The man teaching my group, Robert Gailey, PhD, PT, told me at the end, “You came really far today. You just need a running leg – what you use now is awesome for most everyday activities, but it won’t keep up with you to run.” So, I’ve decided to apply for a grant to get a running leg when applications open up this coming fall- can’t wait.
But what was the most important takeaway from the entire experience?
That’s an easy one: the people. I witnessed so many amputees just GO for it, lots of whom were missing two legs or had additional adversities to overcome. All of them had experienced tremendous pain. They have every right to be angry and bitter, but instead choose not to settle in life and live joyously. No matter how they may have felt inwardly on Sunday, they showed up and gave it their all. I was in awe, no joke. Almost cried like 5 times. It made me realize that as much as I preach self-confidence, I still have so much to learn. I say the phrase “it was very humbling” a lot. But honestly, there’s no better way to describe how I felt.
So there’s that. This post feels raw and even a bit rambling to me, but maybe some of you can relate. I’m left feeling grateful, humbled, hopeful. That’s all I’ve got to say for now.