On November 4, 2017, I was the keynote speaker at an annual awards luncheon for the Colorado Columbines Women’s Running Club. This great group of women support each other and host runs throughout the year, and it was an honor to speak at this celebration.
I wanted to give a little background, so my speech started with a summary of a blog I wrote in September of 2016 about the impact limb loss has had on my life – click here to read that blog posting.
I then went on to talk about the following (although I had written it out, I did stray from this slightly when I thought of things that seemed appropriate in the moment):
I was born missing a bone in my leg, and after seeing multiple doctors, my left leg was amputated below the knee when I was about 2 years old. With my condition, my parents had the option to either have my leg amputated and get me fit with a prosthetic leg or leave my biological foot intact and use a brace to get around. I have been asked on more than one occasion if I have ever resented my parents for making this decision. My answer is always a resounding “No.” Even though it was an extremely tough thing for them to do, they chose major elective surgery for their first child because they knew that it would give me the most functional life. You see, my parents were working with only 99 pieces of a 100-piece puzzle, and they were making the best of it.
Like my parents, I have always tried to make the best of my situation. When our “spirit plunger” (don’t ask) got stolen in high school, my friends and I painted an old leg in our school colors and introduced the “spirit leg” to Cheney High School – it lives on to this day. At the beginning of the school year or when we would have substitute teachers, I would rotate my leg 180 degrees so my foot was completely backwards and walk into class as though I had the worst sprained ankle the world had ever seen. For the record, this works best while wearing pants. During college, my leg often served as a pitcher for our beer, and bartenders would usually fill it up at least once for free. This definitely increased my popularity. All of this is because I was born with something “wrong” with me, but been able to make the best of it.
The message I would really like you all to take away from today is that everybody has something. By this I mean that everybody has something that is challenging them and everybody has something that is a strength, something they are good at. Whether the challenge is an obvious physical disability like mine, the loss of a loved one, a mental health disability, struggling with self-confidence, not getting enough sleep, or any of the other millions of possibilities, everybody faces some challenge at some point in their life. Similarly, everyone – and I mean everyone – has positive qualities and strengths as well. Strengths and differences are a natural part of the human experience, and we are all just out there trying to play the best hand with the cards we’ve been dealt. That’s exactly what my parents did and encouraged me to do when raising me, and I am so thankful to them for that.
My challenge, at least the one that’s obvious, is that I’m missing a leg, but I was also very fortunate to be born with a healthy sense of humor. We all do the best we can in life, and just have to hope and work hard so that our strengths are able to overpower any challenges we may face. Last night, I posted on Facebook asking my friends to share the funniest memory of me they had that involved my leg. I woke up this morning to over 30 comments from friends, many of whom I haven’t actually talked to in years. Some of them mentioned the spirit leg and the backwards foot walk. Others reminded me of the times we drank beer out of my leg, saved seats at a parade or movie with it, used it as a chair when there weren’t enough seats in the science lab, and hung it out the window of the car as we drove to our summer campout. My old PE teacher also reminded me of the time we were running the mile in high school and my leg fell off as I was rounding the final corner. According to him I tucked, rolled, grabbed, my leg and popped it back on and finished with a great time. Although I had forgotten this story, it was a great source of entertainment when it happened, and my friends and I laughed about it for years. From providing practical solutions to seating and savings spots for friends to generating laughter to providing a platform to connect with others, my leg has always been a positive source of energy for me, and I think that’s largely due to my sense of humor allowing me to see the best in a situation.
After this, I explained that even though I do have this positive sense of humor, I have struggled with my limb loss, and gave them a brief summary of my blog about body image from a while back – that blog can be found by clicking here.
I ended with my all-time favorite quote, which is attributed to a man named Charles Lindner, who is an attorney and an amputee just like me. The quote reads as follows: “A person has two legs and one sense of humor, and if you’re faced with the choice, it’s better to lose a leg.”