Taking Advantage of Every Opportunity
Life after amputation may feel like venturing into unknown territory. From learning how to move your new body to researching the costs of activity-specialized prosthetic arms & legs, it is daunting and frustrating to resume an active lifestyle after limb loss. In August 2021, I lost my left leg in an emergency above-knee amputation. I could not fathom what my life would look like post-op. In the hospital, I promised myself to take advantage of every opportunity I came across and to attempt activities outside my comfort zone. I needed to resume living, and for me, that meant returning to activities as soon as possible. "Accept, adapt, achieve" became my new motto.
My Life Before The Amputation
Before my amputation, my body had been dealing with multiple life-threatening conditions and had been in survival mode for years. Four months before I became an amputee, doctors told me I would have to accept being a wheelchair user for the rest of my life. As a 22-year-old, this news was hard to process. Prior to my medical conditions becoming severe and unmanageable, I was a competitive swimmer from age nine to my senior year of high school; I led a very active lifestyle. In 2017 I was formally diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a progressive genetic condition caused by a defect in collagen. From that point on, my life revolved around hospital visits and surgeries. Ehlers-Danlos complications and its co-morbidities ultimately led to the amputation of my left leg.
The Amputation As A Pivoting Point
After my amputation, I became a regular attendee of a live-stream dance class called 567Broadway, with instructor Joseph Corella. Corella caters to all levels and abilities; his goal is to provide a fun and challenging workout for everyone. With two legs, I always enjoyed dancing. With one leg, I was unsure if I would be able to continue. 567Broadway was the first workout I attempted with a prosthetic leg. As an above-knee amputee, some dance moves are incredibly difficult for me to attempt. I instinctually feel guilty when I cannot perform the same way as the rest of the class. Despite any physical barriers and the shame that often accompanies them, Corella encourages people of all abilities to try their best. He celebrates everyone who shows up, no matter what they can or cannot do. He demonstrates modifications for people with injuries and mobility issues so they, too, can achieve. Through his classes, I have gained so much confidence. 567Broadway has also accelerated my comfortability in moving on a prosthetic limb.
A Small Device Making A big Difference
A device that has helped me accomplish returning to physical activities since receiving my first prosthetic leg has been Click Medical's RevoFit technology, which is attached to my socket. As someone who leads an active life with multiple chronic conditions, the RevoFit adjuster has helped me adapt to the swelling/shrinking volume changes in my residual limb. Using the technology to make my socket adjustable increased its longevity. With my RevoFit, I can adjust my socket's tightness on the go. This has been extremely helpful when my leg shrinks during workouts.
Click Medical Supports My First Gravel Cycling Race
Six months into my life as an amputee, I won an entry to the SBT GTVL gravel cycling race through Click Medical, the company behind the adjustable RevoFit technology. It was their first time sponsoring the annual race in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.
When Click Medical announced me as the winner of the race entry, I had only been walking on a prosthetic leg for a few weeks. I had not owned a bicycle since middle school, so I started training for this race on an upright stationary bike. We ran into numerous hurdles. My microprocessor knee kept smashing into the back of my prosthetic socket every time I pedaled due to my socket's offset. My socket lost suction when I sat on a bike saddle which caused it to fall off mid-ride. Because of these complications, my prosthetic team recommended a recumbent trike and completing the race with only one leg. I purchased a recumbent trike and started training the way my prosthetist suggested.
My remaining knee had become damaged due to taking the brunt of the impact during my one-legged training. A little over two weeks before the race, my prosthetic team found a donated mechanical knee/foot setup for me. Having a second leg took some stress off my remaining knee. The issue of losing suction was still ongoing, so the prosthetic lab manager stitched an auxiliary belt for my residual limb. He also added Velcro so that I could adjust during the race. With those problems addressed, my mom and I drove from Tennessee to Colorado.
My goal was to finish all 37 miles of SBT GRVL's Green Course. I channeled the titular character from the popular children's book, "The Little Engine That Could." I repeated the phrase, "I think I can," to which my "course mom," Paige, responded, "I know you can." Paige is the PR representative that works with Click Medical. She rode with me from the starting line to the finish line.
Halfway to the second aid station, my prosthetic leg started slipping off. The pain in my injured knee increased tenfold. I ran out of horsepower to propel myself up the hills, so I started walking my trike up them. Walking on my prosthetic began to cause problems as well. Ultimately, we switched from riding to hiking up the steepest sections. Paige brainstormed the idea of swapping our bikes on the climbs; I used her upright bike for support, and she pushed my shorter trike up the hills. Thousands of riders passed us, many of whom yelled words of encouragement to me. Their support helped me look past the pain and keep my sights set on the finish line.
The Click Medical team started riding next to us ten miles from the finish line. Then we all got caught in a massive thunderstorm. As someone with metal spanning from my brainstem down to my prosthetic knee, I am a lightning magnet. The storm's lightning was the motivation I needed to propel me to the finish line as fast as I could. As the city of Steamboat came into view, I was overcome by a wave of gratitude and feelings of accomplishment. This was the first time in years that I did not feel entirely broken. I crossed the finish line right as my prosthetic leg fell off completely. Crying happy tears, I processed everything that transpired throughout the day. I took pride in being part of the 30+ para-athletes in SBT GRVL's first-ever Paracycling category. Together, we showed the world that people with disabilities can accomplish remarkable feats.
More Amazing Opportunities Through The Beautifully Flawed Foundation
In October 2022, I had the opportunity to attend Bethany Hamilton's Beautifully Flawed Foundation retreat for female amputees ages 14-25. Hamilton, who lost her arm to a shark attack in 2003, defied the odds and became a professional surfer. Her foundation works to provide physical, spiritual, and healthy lifestyle lessons to young people with limb differences. At the retreat, we surfed, did CrossFit, made lei po'os (Hawaiian flower crowns), and shared our stories. We had a self-defense class on the beach, postural training geared to our specific levels of amputation, a private chef making healthy meals, and workout equipment customized for our limb losses. The knowledge I’ve gained from the retreat is invaluable, and the memories made will last a lifetime.
My favorite activity of the retreat was surfing. On surf day, attendees were separated into three heats; each of us had at least three instructors teaching us how to catch waves with our type of limb loss. Each attendee had a goal: some chose to surf prone, some wished to get on their knees, and some attempted to stand. My mission was to stand on one leg without a prosthesis. As an amputee, my center of gravity differs from when I had two legs. Through the lens of surfing, this means I needed to find my new balancing 'sweet spot' on the board. While surfing on one leg is unorthodox, it is attainable. The instructors deemed my objective ambitious yet wanted to help me reach this goal. It took a couple of times with adjustments before I could stand, but I did. I stood up and rode the waves to shore multiple times. Inside my head, I could hear the Little Engine's voice, "I think I can. I know I can." I thought I could, so I did.
I Am Ready For Another Year Filled With Amazing Activities
In August 2021, amputation saved and changed my life. 2022 was a year of following through on my promise to make the most of this second chance. I have attempted and completed feats I never would have imagined doing with two healthy legs. There will always be obstacles, and I will have to adjust numerous key aspects each time I tackle them. But I will continue to fight for a life of activity, no matter how much I need to adapt.
Accept. Adapt. Achieve.
Guest post by Sydney Marshburn is a left above-knee amputee since 2021. Passionate about advocating for people with disabilities, she openly shares her story with the world through social media and is a mentor to those facing chronic illness/limb loss. Sydney dreams of representing Team USA at the LA2028 Paralympic Games. Follow Sydney’s journey on Instagram.
To learn more about the organisations mentioned in this article, please check them out on Instagram or on their respective webpages:
- BeautifullyFlawed: @beautifullyflawedfoundation on Instagram or visit their homepage https://beautifullyflawedfoundation.com/
- 567Broadway: @567broadway & @josephcorella5678 on Instagram or visit their homepage https://josephcorella.com/
- Click Medical: @clickmedical on Instagram or visit their homepage https://clickmedical.co
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