Can you remember a time when you saw somebody who was missing a limb? Think back to that moment for me. Did you feel sorry for them? Or did you feel like, ¨Look at that person; They are missing a leg." Did you point and stare? Or were you one of the people who thought that they were actually really “cool?” I'll be honest with you, most people react with pity or staring. Very few think that the amputee is “cool” from the start. I am a person who didn’t start out thinking prosthetics were cool. I regret that there was a time when I couldn’t see how amazing prosthetics were, but over time I have become a person who finds them to be cool. Maybe this is because I am an amputee myself, but I think the real reason is because of the San Diego Triathlon Challenge (SDTC). SDTC is an event to which amputees by the thousands flock every year. The SDTC is a genuine triathlon that shows other people what physically “disabled” athletes can do. All of the amputees doing the SDTC inspire ME. All of these amputee athletes have a challenge that they have had to overcome in order to compete. This is why the company that started the San Diego Triathlon Challenge is called the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF).
My first experience with the SDTC was in October 2013. At the event, I noticed that there were people who couldn't even stand up. I may only have one (real) foot, but I can still stand, walk, run, and ski using my prosthetic(s). Other people there couldn’t. For example, there was a boy who was strapped into the chair so tightly that when it lifted vertically he could get an idea of what standing was like without bearing weight. What I learned after seeing this little boy was that I could not take even my prosthetic leg for granted. Think about it. Most people only have to learn how to walk once. Some people never learn how to walk, and other people have to learn how to walk twice. So, in other words, being able to walk and move around freely is a privilege that not all people get to experience.
Before I lost my leg in the fall of 2012, I didn't really know that so many amputees existed. I thought maybe there were 100, but that was it. My friends and I thought that we would always be as normal as possible, and that anybody who didn’t look like us was automatically different. We never realized that each of us was different in our own way. I remember that none of us ever thought that someday, our lives would be changed for better or worse and that WE might become the odd balls, the people who looked funny to others. I used to think all of this, but now I know that amputees are as normal as anyone else.
If you don’t believe my claim that amputees are normal, then here are a couple of examples to help you see my point. Breezy B. plays soccer, (a normal 11 year old sport) on a prosthetic leg. Sarah Reinertsen was the first female above knee amputee to cross the finish line at the Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon. Roderick Sewell was homeless when the Challenged Athletes Foundation heard that he was a bilateral amputee with no prosthetic limbs to walk on. CAF not only gave Roderick waking legs, they gave him running legs and they paid for him go to the SDTC for the first time! Roderick saw amputees swimming 1 mile, biking 44 miles, and then running ten miles! Roderick was afraid of the water, but, then he met Rudy. Rudy is a bilateral amputee who loves to swim. Rudy inspired Roderick to become a paralympic swimmer and CAF gave him swimming lessons to get him started.
So, you can see that amputees are “normal” in so many ways. Nevertheless, we still look funny to some people. We are used to being stared at, but it doesn’t mean that we like it. When you stop to think about it, there's no real difference, right? I mean we are still living, breathing beings with hopes and dreams and passions and so are all of the people who stare at us. We are all human, no matter what any of us looks like on the outside.
Think about all of the people you have ever met, or seen pictures of, or even only heard of who are missing limbs. All of those people have different stories. For instance, Breezy, like me, had to overcome cancer and adapt to a prosthetic leg when she was only 10 years old. Sarah was born with proximal femoral focal deficiency (PFFD) and had her leg amputated at age 7. Roderick was homeless and legless until the Challenged Athlete’s Foundation found him. Haven Shepard's legs were taken from her by an explosion. However, all of these people are now amazing athletes. Nothing stands in their way. Their stories inspire me. They teach me never to take anything for granted especially my health. They never gave up. No matter how hard it was to get back in the game, they did it. They made their impact on the world and showed everyone around them that nothing is impossible. These amazing people show others that they should never take their mobility for granted.
I feel strongly that CAF and the SDTC have changed my life as well as Breezy's, Sarah's, and so many others! Sarah, Breezy, and I were inspired at our weakest moments to want to be triathletes. We want to show that being mobile, strong, and athletic are privileges that we are so lucky to experience.
Sarah already conquered her Iron Man as the first female above knee amputee. By doing this, she has inspired me and Breezy to be the youngest to cross the finish line. An athlete whose legs were lost in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings was interviewed at the SDTC, and News 10 said: “Celeste Corcoran, a Boston bombings survivor, was inspired by the San Diego Triathlon Challenge so much, she wanted to get up and get moving right then." The 2013 SDTC also gave me something to work toward. At the 2014 SDTC, I plan to do both the 1 mile swim, and the 10 mile run. It certainly sounds like Celeste is planning to do more this Fall as well. News 10 said that she wanted to get up right away, and that is the first big step. I know firsthand that being a single amputee is no picnic. Being a bilateral amputee like she is? That’s got to be tough! Lt. Colonel Timothy Karcher is another bilateral amputee who attended the SDTC. He said, "I was so inspired by the other challenged athletes there [SDTC], I set goals and am planning to get up right away!" Lt. Colonel Karcher lost both of his legs in active duty in 2009. However, CAF inspired Lt. Colonel Karcher to get moving again, and to walk on prosthetic legs.
The SDTC has taught me to be grateful for the important things, especially my health and mobility. I admit, I used to think that people who were missing limbs looked a little funny and couldn't just be normal people, but now I know that people like me who have had challenges that have taken limbs from them are awesome, brave, courageous, and inspiring. The SDTC is an event where you realize that everybody is the same on the inside and it teaches you not to focus on a “disability” but to celebrate your mobility and all of your abilities. So, next time you see an amputee what will you see in them? Difference? Or bravery? Or will you smile and nod because you see “pure awesomeness?”