Sep 24

Two Year Anniversary

Two years ago today, I hobbled into Saratoga hospital on my crutches, and would leave without the lower portion of my left leg. I had no idea how I would live or what I would achieve as an amputee. I was just banking on being relieved of the pain the leg caused. After six years of unrelenting pain, multiple surgeries and the inability to walk, I had to take the chance with amputation.

I spent the first year making my body strong and capable without the leg. Being freed of the painful, useless leg was liberating, and I soon discovered that I was capable of accomplishing anything I wanted to in the gym. The more I pushed and challenged myself in the gym, the easier my daily life became. Outside the gym I took on cycling, rock wall climbing, returned to skiing and successfully completed challenging events such as the Warrior Dash. I also spent the year learning to walk with the prosthetic leg and manage it. None of it was easy, but with the right attitude, hard work and determination, I learned that amputation didn’t have to stop or define my life. In fact, I discovered that the human body is very much capable of adapting to physical change and accomplishing incredible things. I was living a full, highly active life despite losing a leg.

Going into my second year, I became a full-time personal trainer. The most rewarding part of my fitness journey has been having the ability to inspire people to get out and make improvements in their own lives. With the loss of my leg I have gained an incredible gift – the awesome ability to teach people that it doesn’t matter what challenges life has thrown at you, you can accomplish anything you want with determination and hard work. When faced with becoming unemployed early in the second year, the answer seemed obvious: give back by guiding, supporting and pushing others to overcome their challenges, discover their capabilities and give up their excuses.

This year has also been about running. In August of last year, I set the goal to run a 5K. As an amputee the freedom running gives is incredibly powerful. Unfortunately, running was also very frustrating for me. I was more than physically fit to run, yet without the proper tool – a running blade – I found myself really doing nothing more than inflicting pain on my residual limb. Not wanting to give in, I reset my goal to return to running in the spring.

As luck would have it, my motivation and push to get myself running came as a result of training a client. I promised this client that if he trained with me, not only would I get him physically ready to complete a Tough Mudder, but I would be right by his side running it with him.

My challenge was twofold. One, I needed to get my client ready to complete the Tough Mudder, and two, I had to figure out how I was going to run a 10-mile course without a running blade. We both put the work in, my client in the gym and me outside pushing through the pain, running, and adding a little length whenever my tolerance allowed. On July 24th we ran through the finish line at the Long Island Tough Mudder together.

Today, exactly 2 years to the day later, I am in Nashville, TN, where I will begin my journey as a runner. I have been given the incredible opportunity to become a member of the Amputee Blade Runners team. I am beyond grateful for this opportunity and humbled to be among these amazing ABR athletes. I spent the past two years building a strong, very capable body, and will now return home with the tool – the running leg – that I need to fully experience the power and freedom running will give me.

So, what will year 3 bring? Training to run a marathon, another Tough Mudder, Ragnar Relay, triathlon training, 5Ks, jumping higher boxes, changing as many lives as I can in the gym as a trainer, and continuing what I do best – showing the world that life doesn’t end with amputation, and that you can in fact soar.

No Limits, No Excuses!!!!

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Jul 01

15 Things I Have Learned Since Becoming A Leg Amputee

  1. Some days the leg slips right on without a catch, while other days it take several tries to get it right. I have to factor in time to put on my leg as part of morning routine.
  2. Hopping has become a necessary skill. With determination it is astonishing what you can accomplish on one leg. I’ve got hopping mastered.
  3. My stump is the amazing shrinking limb, even when I think there is nothing left but skin and bone. A few weeks later I am adding socks to take up yet more space in the prosthetic socket.IMG_1793
  4. My Facebook timeline always has an amputee story or picture on it. Every time anyone who knows me stumbles upon anything about a leg amputee (human or animal) on social media, they tag me and share it.
  5. People are curious. I have made myself transparent (open) to help others, however people who don’t know me often start the conversation with, “Is it okay if I ask how you lost your leg?” I have had some of the most fascinating and rewarding conversations with people who had the courage to ask.IMG_1200
  6. A good one-legged sense of humor goes a long way. Poking some one-legged fun at myself immediately puts people at ease and lets them know I am comfortable with my situation and approachable.foam roll
  7. I live my life as a strong confident person (not an amputee), but I always take advantage of “bragging rights”. As a 51-year-old leg amputee I have accomplished physical things most two-legged people never do, so damn right I’m going show my skills off!

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    30 feet up a climbing chimney.

  8. Saying I walk comfortably is a relative thing. After over a year of walking with a prosthesis, I started to have small windows where it hits me that I am walking comfortably. For the most part walking in a prosthesis always has a certain amount of discomfort; it just becomes the norm and I have come to tolerate it because being able to walk on two legs overrides the discomfort.
  9. Compared to getting a leg cut off, a colonoscopy is a walk in the park.
  10. Many people seem to think my prosthetic leg is permanently attached. I don’t sleep in it or shower in it and my stump sometimes just needs a break. I personally love hanging out one legged; my prosthesis is the tool I use to walk. It’s like wearing a tight work boot all day – when I want to relax, it needs to come off.
  11. I have picked up some new language that only an amputee might say. These include, “I will be ready as soon as I attach my leg”, “My leg has become loose”, “I need to take my leg off” and “My nonexistent foot has gone to sleep”, just to name a few.
  12. My two most valuable possessions are my prosthesis and my crutches. My prosthetic leg is my baby, my working transportation mode. My crutches are my comfy slippers, always there when my stump is sore from a long day and next to my bed ready for quick use during bathroom trips.posseions
  13. I am human, and just like anyone else I will get upset or have a bad day. It has nothing to do with being an amputee.
  14. A leg is a very valuable thing. There’s no denying that a real leg is extremely valuable to have, but a prosthetic one is very pricey. Health insurance only pays for one, and even then the co-pay on a leg can be thousands of dollars. 
  15. Living a full, active, happy life is all about your attitude. Living on one leg is not an easy thing to do; sometimes plain and simple it just sucks. A positive attitude and an avenue to pull yourself back from the dark spots is an absolute necessity. For me, pounding out some one-legged box jumps and one-legged tire flips at the gym is the best antidepressant I can find.30 box jump
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May 21

Why I Do What I Do

Screen Shot 2016-05-20 at 10.58.30 AMEight years ago I woke up each morning, swung my two healthy legs off the side of the bed and began my day. I didn’t give having two legs or walking a thought; I was just living my life like everyone else. My life was full, very busy and always active. When not at work I was playing with my kids, working on a home project and maintaining my yard to perfection. The highlight was spending the winter weekends skiing with my 3 kids.

I had no idea what TRX straps were, no interest in leaping onto a 30” box, and hadn’t done a burpee since elementary school. I had also never stepped foot into a gym nor had any plans to ever do so. If someone had told me then that 8 years in the future I would be a personal trainer, I would have said, “Yeah right, did you forget that I was the kid who almost didn’t graduate high school due to getting a zero in gym?”

But life threw me a challenge!

After six painful surgeries in an attempt to regain use of my destroyed ankle and six years of being in pain, unable to walk or do the activities I enjoyed, on September 24th 2014 I did the unthinkable – I had my lower left leg amputated.
Within weeks of the amputation, I decided to take on the challenge of becoming a strong, fit and capable one-legged guy. I signed on with a personal trainer. Having the painful dead leg gone was truly liberating, and I now wanted to be pushed hard and given no special treatment. I had no idea what I would accomplish. I soon found that the more I challenged myself, the easier my daily life as an amputee became. Before I knew it, with only my one leg, I was leaping on to 30” boxes, flipping 175lb tires, planking on two medicine balls, swinging on the gymnastic rings and signing up for physical challenges outside the gym that I had no idea how to achieve. With each one of them I grew into the person who could accomplish them and reaped the rewards of victory.

I was now a one-legged man on a mission with no excuses and no limits.

My determination to succeed physically in the gym gave me the power to take control of my life back. After 7 years of pain and suffering, I was active, strong, confident and loving life again.

The most rewarding part of my fitness journey has been having the ability to inspire people to get out and make improvements in their own lives. With the loss of my leg I have gained an incredible gift: the awesome ability to teach people that it doesn’t matter what challenges life has thrown at you, you can accomplish anything you want with determination and hard work.

So why do I do what I do? Today I wake up each morning, swing my one leg out of bed, put on my prosthetic leg and begin my rewarding day as a personal trainer. I don’t give having one leg a thought, because as my wife says, I am the most able person she knows. None of this happened by accident; I became a strong, confident, 100% able amputee by pushing and challenging myself through grueling workouts at the gym.

I lost my disability and got my life back in the gym. Now it’s my turn to guide, support and push others to overcome their challenges, discover their capabilities and give up their excuses. I will help them discover how exercise can give them confidence, improve their lives and give them what I call the “feeling of strong”.

I do it for my clients: a sixty-year-old who has spent the past decades taking care of everyone but herself and now fears for her mobility through her retirement years, along with an ex drug addict and a recovering alcoholic who signed on with me in search of healthier habits. I do it to help the young guy living with the challenge of Spina bifida improve his leg strength and balance, and to show a new young amputee in the gym, searching for his answers, that anything is possible.

Today, working as a personal trainer means I spend up to 8-hour shifts on my feet. I am in constant motion, moving around the gym and demonstrating exercises. By the end of the day I can’t wait to kick my leg off and give my stump a rest. Yet I will take it, considering that three and a half years ago I gave up on an active life to settle for a desk job. What I have accomplished in the 19 months since amputation blows my mind every single day. If I can do it, anyone can.

Take a peek into what a small part of my day is like.

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Mar 14

Achieving Normal Life

What is normal life? I am not sure anyone could really answer that question, and if they could it would mean many different things to many different people. For seven years I suffered unimaginable pain, endured 7 leg surgeries, wore many leg casts and was completely dependent on crutches for my mobility. I could no longer imagine what normal life was. I lost my career, my active life, and it seemed like life just kept crumbing down around me. For years I said to my psychologist, “All I want is a normal life, one with normal problems. I’m not asking for perfect, just normal.” In reality, I had no idea what that would be. Perhaps the life I had before the injury? All I knew was that living in pain, unable to use a leg and living from surgery to surgery wasn’t living a “normal” life.

The seventh surgery was the amputation of my lower left leg. At that point I was no longer looking for a normal life, I was just looking for one without constant throbbing, mind-numbing pain. Besides, could I really ever have a normal life as an amputee? Would anyone really ever treat me normally? Would people always think I needed assistance? And my biggest fear, would people just feel sorry for me?

I am happy and proud to say that 17 months post leg amputation, I have achieved a normal life. Yes, of course I am an amputee. I am missing my lower left leg, I use a prosthetic leg and when not using the prosthetic leg I use crutches. Yes, I deal with donning a leg, cleaning prosthetic liners, adding/removing layers of prosthetic socks, skin irritations and prosthetic discomfort daily. And yes, every once in a while I think about how nice it must be to have two healthy legs, not needing a prosthetic or crutches to walk. Regardless, I have achieved a normal life.

The following are the things that have allowed me to achieve what I call a “normal” life.

First, I fully accept being an amputee. My stump has just become part of my body, while the prosthetic and crutches are the parts I attach to my body to give me mobility. I never hide my stump, I never hide my prosthetic, and I view my crutches as tools that help me, not symbols of disability. In fact, my crutches are my slippers. Just as you like to kick off your shoes after a long day and slip into comfy slippers. I like to kick off my shoe, kick off my leg and slip on to my crutches. Accepting being an amputee also requires being comfortable talking about it. I invite questions and conversation about being an amputee, and I constantly make jokes about it. The people who know me make jokes right back because they know it’s okay and I enjoy it. Fully accepting being an amputee takes being comfortable with your new body, being comfortable with having others see your stump and prosthetic, being willing to incorporate a back-up method of ambulation into your daily life, such as crutches, and having a willingness to openly discuss being an amputee with others.

legs for.jpgSecond, I present myself as a confident and very capable person. Therefore, that is how people treat me. My fears of having people feel sorry for me and think I need assistance have not become a reality. They don’t think this because I give them no reason to. Whether I am using my prosthetic or my crutches, I present myself as a confident, capable person and that is how I am treated. Recently I had a conversation with a member at the gym where I work. We first met a year ago while I was taking an highly intensive exercise class. In the class I was not wearing my prosthetic, just hopping around one legged and conquering the moves better than the rest of the class. She said to me, “I never felt sorry for you, because you don’t give people any reason to.” Given this wonderful complement, how could I not feel I have achieved a normal life?

Third, I became determined to live my life without limitations. There really is nothing I don’t do. In fact, I do more than what most healthy two-legged people do. I ask and accept no further assistance than anyone else would have or need. I made myself completely capable and independent by learning to do things one legged, with crutches or with the prosthetic. This way I never find myself disabled. I immersed myself into physical fitness and sport. Through my fitness workouts I’ve gain incredible balance, strength and endurance. This has resulted in being a confident and very capable person who can lead a normal life.

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Fourth, the thing that has most made me realize that I have truly achieved normal life is my new career. I work as a personal trainer at a very busy gym. I train people less than half my age with twice as many legs who aspire to do what I can. It is just mind-blowing! Each day I show up to work I am the only amputee there, however the only thing different between me any of the other trainers is basically “cosmetic” – my robotic leg. I work with trainers half my age and recently competed in a physical challenge with them. I didn’t win the challenge, but I didn’t finish last by any means. If the prosthesis is not seen, no one has any idea there is anything different about me. But I never cover it; I wear shorts every day and display being an amputee with pride. I do my job 100% with no accommodations, always present myself as a confident trainer, and there is no one in that gym – clients, supervisors or coworkers – that treats me one bit different or expects any less of me then they would anyone else. Yes, I am asked daily about how I lost my leg by clients and members, but that’s great as it shows I’m approachable and once again normal. I leap on 30” boxes, flip 175 lb. tires, perform 100 burpees in a row, all on one leg without my prosthesis. Wearing my prosthesis, I broad jump 7 to 8 ft, leap, skip and lunge forward, backward and laterally. While training clients and teaching classes, I tell one-legged jokes and often pull my leg off just to prove anything is possible. Yet, I walk through the gym, train clients and teach high-intensity metabolic classes, demonstrating each exercise, not giving being an amputee a thought with a feeling of complete normalcy.

Me far left with my Challenge team.

Me far left with my Challenge team.

So what do I consider “normal” life?

  • When after 7 years of sitting on the couch watching my wife and kids decorate our 13ft Christmas tree, this past Christmas, I climbed up and down the ladder without thought.
    When my wife and kids feel comfortable asking me to do all the normal husband and dad things
  • When I hop out of bed, grab my crutches and begin my day without giving missing a leg or how I will get through the day a thought. I don’t need to, as I know I will conquer anything that comes my way.
  • When the words ‘grocery store’, ‘Target’ or ‘school open house’ no longer send me into panic. I just get in the car and go.
  • When I am out in the world doing my business and I have no idea if people are staring at my leg or lack of leg, because it’s the farthest thing from my focus.
  • When I realize I no longer plan and worry about how everyday household tasks will get done – I just do them.
  • When my daily stresses are about not having enough time in the day to accomplish everything that needs to be done as opposed to not being able to accomplish them due to my leg.
  • When I realize I am doing a very physically active job and doing it no differently than anyone else.
  • When my wife says, “You’re the most able person I know.”
  • When I’m waiting in a line for our take-out and the guy next to me looks like I did two years ago (clearly in pain, having difficulty bearing weight on his leg), and I realize no one in the line has any idea I have a fake leg under my pants.

Accomplishing a normal life, as a leg amputee, did not come by chance. I don’t have any magical superpowers or super expensive high-tech equipment. In fact, I don’t even have a running leg. It took the strong desire not to be a disabled husband/father, an immense amount of determination, the hardest work I have ever done and never allowing myself to feel anything other than 100% capable. It also doesn’t mean life is easy. Living without a limb is not easy; I have just accepted the challenges and don’t make them the focus of my life. Instead, I focus on living life to the fullest and without limitations.

 

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Feb 13

All In The Day Of An Amputee

Unknown Source

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Statements that only a leg amputee would say.

I was discussing the process of learning to walk with my prosthetic leg and talking about how I would not be able to wear it all day at first. I say:

“I will have to take my leg off and carry it home.”

One day while sitting on the examining table, waiting for my prosthesis to come back with my leg, there was a knock on the door. A man opened the door and asked if my prosthesis was there. I respond:

“No, he is fixing my leg somewhere.”

This was a text response to my wife. She had text me to see what my afternoon plan was. I was currently at my prosthesis picking up my first leg and then heading to the gym for my training secession. I was leaving the prosthetist office with my leg on for the first time and there was no way I was training with it on at that point. My responding text read:

“I will need to stop home for gym clothes. And to take off my leg, I guess.”

This statement came from a discussion on how I was going to air travel, as an amputee, for the first time. I didn’t want to wear my leg on the plane and I didn’t want to risk it getting lost checking as luggage.

“I need a carry-on bag that my leg will fit in.”

This statement was said to me during a conversation while I was struggling to get accustomed to the prosthetic.

“Just keep working on being an awesome one-legged guy.”

We were having hot water tank problems, so while on the phone with the heating and cooling company, they asked me a question that required looking at the hot water tank. Without giving it a thought, I say:

“I don’t have my leg on, so it will take me a few minutes.”

By the confused response he gave, I realized he had no idea I was an amputee.

Skiing

As I skied by two small kids, one says to the other:

Unknown Source

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“Look, that man only has one leg.”
The friend responds:

“That’s because he lost the other one.” (Do you think it is lying on the hill somewhere?)

I was standing in front of the ski lodge on my one ski and outriggers when a man says to me:

“Looks like you are having fun, I love to do that.” (What, cut your leg off and ski?)

I pass two little girls on the stairs. One girl says to the other:

“Look at that man.”
The other girl responds:
“He lost his foot.” (I hope I find it some day!)

Amputee skiing benefit: You don’t have to worry about crossing your ski tips and you never end up with your skis tangled during a wipeout.

Kids

My 4-year-old niece is messing around with me when she stops with a confused look on her face and says:

“Uncle Darryl, why do you have two feet?”

I was wearing my prosthesis.

She also has referred to it as my “toy leg.”

Unknown Source

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Taking a spinning class and learning to ride my bike.

This text came after having my leg fall off during my first spinning class I took. The dilemma: How do I keep my leg from falling off?

Me: “Please sign me into spin for Friday. In the meantime I will purchase a roll of duct tape!”

My Trainer: “Remind me tomorrow, I think it’s 24 hours in advance.
The gorilla tape actually seems even stronger, lol.”

This text was after I fell off my bike and rotated my foot.

“Wait until you hear my biking story – luckily you can fix a fake leg with an Allen wrench!”

“The good news is that I can pedal a bike, I just have to figure out how to keep the leg on.”

At the gym

A random guy at the gym stops and says:

“Wow, I didn’t know you had a bionic leg! That’s great! Can you run?”
(He was trying to say that just by watching me walk you would never know I had a prosthetic leg, but he made it sound like a prosthetic leg was better than a real one.)

Anther guy stops me to say:

“My son calls you Iron Man. I thought you might like to tell your friends that.”

As a personal trainer I am currently a team captain of a transformation challenge team. The slogan on the back of my team’s tee shirt:

“We have a leg up on the competition!”

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I will leave you with more of a funny story.

While sitting at PF Changs having dinner, the waitress comes by to fill our water glasses. Suddenly she realizes that she was pouring water onto my (fake) foot instead of in my glass. She panics and start apologizing profusely. I say:

“Not a problem, it isn’t real, I can’t feel a thing,” while pulling up my pant leg.

I’m not certain, but I think she might have given up waitressing after that.

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