A little over four months ago I entered the operating room to have my lower left leg amputated. I left the operation minus a left leg, but with the determination to get my life back. I wanted to relieve myself from debilitating and relentless pain. If I could relieve the pain I promised myself that I would never let anything hold me back. I would get my active life back – whether it was one-legged with crutches, or with a prosthetic leg, I would use whichever tool that worked.
So far the one leg and crutches have worked the best. I can grab my crutches and roll pain free. In fact, while walking with the crutches I don’t give my left leg a thought, which in itself is huge, as the leg was a consent preoccupation for six years. At the end of the day I can flop into bed, melt into comfort and sleep like a log, and once again I don’t give the leg a thought all night long. This is liberating and I feel wonderful. My goal was met, I will forever be grateful, and now I won’t let anything stand in my way. I will get the prosthetic leg worked out, but right now all I am doing is fighting with it and it holds me back. So I grab my crutches and move, or in this story grab my outriggers (forearm crutches equipped with small skis at the bottoms) and soar.
A year ago I posted a two-part story about how skiing shaped my life. Skiing was a huge part of my life and how I spent quality time with my family. At the time I wrote the story, I had pretty much given up on the thought of skiing. I was happy to have found ways to get out for a run or two, but that was not my idea of skiing. I was basically forcing myself out on the hill, fighting pain for a few runs and really just counting the minutes until I got back to the safety of the lodge. So, after a run or two I would release my wife and kids from the beginner’s trail and take my pain-withered body back home.
Last May when I seriously discussed amputating my leg with the surgeon I said, “The leg is holding me back, it is just in my way and I don’t care if I have to use crutches or a prosthetic to walk for the rest of my life. I will be so much better off without the leg.” The example I gave was skiing, and I showed him the video of me skiing, holding my pain-ridden leg out of the way.
Now, four months post-amputation I wouldn’t trade my crutches for the painful leg for anything. I am more active than ever and I will never let the loss of my leg stop me from accomplishing anything I want.
So, after a having a difficult week and struggling with the prosthetic leg, Friday afternoon I load into the car with my wife and kids and head out to spend the weekend skiing – the once-treasured ski weekends that I have dreaded for the past seven years. However, this weekend was different. At the beginning of the ski season I was determined to ski and wasn’t giving up. I had the skill, and now freed of the dead leg, I would once again ski with my family, and I mean really ski.
The previous weekends I had been out working on skill, slowly building up leg tolerance and conquering the fear of flying down the hill on one leg. I was determined this would be the weekend I would push the limits, defeat my fears and ski more than a few runs on the beginner’s trail.
First run Sunday morning I load the chair lift with my wife and son and head for the top of the mountain. My destination was a newly-cut trail that was reported to be narrow and to have a hairy steep drop at one point. Did I feel confident that I could do it? No, but that was exactly the reason I had to ski it. The fact was I had the skill, so it was the fear of skiing the trail with one leg that I was scared of. I knew I had to do it for the very reason I thought I couldn’t: FEAR due to my lack of confidence from missing a leg. I unloaded the lift at the summit and just started skiing. When I got to the top of the steep drop, I stopped, took a peek over the edge, made sure no one was in danger of having me take them out, took a deep breath and went for it. I made it down without a hitch. All I could think about was that four months ago I laid in the operating room and had my left leg cut off, and now I was flying down this hill free from the bondage of the painful left leg. How awesome is that?!
A lot of determination, fighting my fears, a little boot work and I really truly now feel like I have my life back. I am skiing trails I never thought I would ski again. I spent the whole morning having fun, enjoying time with my wife and son. It took six years and amputating my leg, but with determination and not giving up, I have finally felt the incredible feeling of freedom flying down the hill on skies has – the very thing that made me fall in love with skiing when I was a kid. The best part is skiing with my wife and enjoying her company for a coffee break in the mid mountain lodge, which is something I never thought would happen again.
A weekend which I went into upset and stressed about the poor progress I was making with the prosthesis ended with me on top of the world. The same determination will eventually have me running a 5K with the prosthesis. For now I have the time to acclimate on my own to using the prosthesis because I am not waiting on the leg to restart my life. I can spend the rest of my winter weekends trying to hobble around fighting with the prosthesis, or spend them out enjoying life on the slopes with my wife and kids. I choose skiing. For the past six years I had no choice but to fight with a painful leg, and now I have a choice.
At my two-month follow-up with my surgeon he said, “I removed the leg, so are you skiing?” At my next appointment I can report, “I sure am.”
It doesn’t matter what you use – legs, prosthesis, crutches, wheelchair – use whatever works, just get out and do it. Never give up!
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