Muddy Princess

This past weekend I participated in The Muddy Princess, which is an all-women’s mud-based event that is 100% about fun, teamwork, and getting outside your comfort zone!  Let me tell you, it did not disappoint!  There were over 15 women on our team, and we 67893329_2483563175084368_7999787015874805760_nstuck together to help each other out of the mud pits and over the slippery mud berms all while laughing with and cheering for each other.  This is the first time I’ve participated in a “race” without a timing chip, and it was kind of liberating.  When we got to the tire wall and there was a line of women waiting for their turn on the obstacle, we weren’t upset about waiting.  Instead, we embraced the two women who seemed “stuck” at the top because they hit a mental block and were scared to swing their legs over to go down the other side.  We felt like we were up there with them even though we didn’t even know them, and we celebrated them as they conquered their fear to complete the obstacle.  It was just such a cool event!

As an amputee, muddy water is not necessarily my friend because water makes it so the68623804_2484086581698694_6336218552885837824_n.jpg sleeve that holds my leg on loses suction, my prosthetic foot fills with water (making it pretty heavy), and all the little parts are no fun to clean out after the fun is over.  It’s also fairly uncomfortable to walk around with a soggy sock on my leg in my prosthesis (like a wet shoe, but worse because there’s more surface area).  These are the reasons I’ve generally avoided water parks and other water-based activities 68297386_2483926965047989_3434766263795056640_nmost of my life… BUT, when my friend/coworker Shannon told me that she wanted to do a mud run, I jumped all in and decided I wasn’t going to let these inconveniences get in my way.   We found the perfect “beginner” mud run and quickly started promoting it to our friends so we could form a team.  Watching everyone tackle the obstacles together was such a great experience, and I’d hate for other amputees to avoid these sorts of things because they’re afraid of what might happen to them and/or their prosthetic limb.

In order to help other amputees who might shy away from trying something like this, I offer the following thoughts…

  1. Make sure you don’t have any components that will be ruined by getting wet – talk to your prosthetist before you sign up to make sure your prosthetic limb will be able to get wet and muddy.
  2. If you wear a sleeve to hold your prosthesis on, plan on throwing it away after a mud race (or spending hours trying to clean it).
  3. Wear a thick knee-high sock over your prosthesis to prevent at least the large chunks of mud/straw from getting in your prosthetic foot/components.
  4. Bring a towel so you can dry out your leg if needed.  If you wear socks, bring an extra sock to change into immediately after the race.
  5. 68261245_2484083485032337_3254606821112938496_nClean out your components really well after the race to avoid more serious damage caused by things that may have found their way into different parts of your limb.
  6. Practice activities that specifically target improving your proprioception – the better you can “feel” your prosthetic foot, the better off you’ll be for this type of event.
  7. Make sure you work on strength training for both the upper/lower body.
  8. Use a friend to stand by you as you do the obstacles on the course if you’re not feeling confident – they can be nearby to use a shoulder if needed or ignored if not needed.
  9. Don’t let your pride get in the way – if you don’t feel good about an obstacle AND it’s not something you can do with a friend standing by to support you (like a big wall of tires), it’s okay to go around it this time.  You can go home, work on the strength/skills you need for that obstacle, and come back next time to conquer it safely.




Making it Work (in Silver Sandals)

Brain Re-calibration

About a month out from the Boulder Half Ironman, I realized I needed to recalibrate my brain.  I hadn’t done a triathlon since the epic Ironman experience more than a year ago, and I could tell that my brain was discounting how tough covering 70.3 miles was going to be.  Fortunately, I had signed up for an Olympic distance triathlon two weeks ahead of the Half Ironman, and that allowed my brain and body to remember that a race doesn’t have to be 140.6 miles to be hard!  That 1500-meter swim + 26-mile bike + 10k run kicked by booty, and it was the perfect thing to get my head back in the game and start mentally preparing for what August 3rd had in store for me.


We stayed at a hotel close to the reservoir to avoid any unnecessary stress the morning of the race and on race morning, I was up sometime before my alarm went off at 4:15 am and to the Boulder Reservoir by 5:00 am.  I got everything set up in transition, chatted with my fellow PC athletes, went for a short jog to warm up the legs, and found a port-o-potty.  My friends Sasha and Neil were there to cheer me on, and it was so great to see IMG_3281.jpgtheir smiling faces that early in the morning!  Zach and I talked about strategy as far as the legs go, and we decided it would be best to leave my bike and run legs in transition and wear my walking leg from the swim exit to transition.  After figuring out the leg logistics, we headed over to the swim start area and I got into my new wetsuit and did a short warm-up swim.  It was a pretty small area and quite crowded, so I only swam one loop, which took about 3 ½ minutes… (Quick side note about my wetsuit: Since my residual limb is so skinny, I can’t just cut the leg off that side, but actually have to get it tailored to fit my skinny/short limb – huge thanks to Laurie Mizener for doing an amazing job and getting it done in time for me to swim in it prior to race day!)  I sat on the beach for a few minutes, then headed over to the swim start on my crutches (I can’t wear my leg once my wetsuit is on).  The PC athletes get to start behind the professional women, so I got to line up in the water right behind them – which is pretty awesome!  I was the only PC athlete to start at this time, so the announcer gave me a special shout-out and I felt pretty dang cool.  Biggest win of all – I didn’t throw up before the race like I always used to do!


At 7:10 am on the dot, the gun went off and we were off!  I followed the professional women as they set off at a pace I can only hold for 100 meters, and settled into my own rhythm as I started ticking off the buoys I swam past.  I could still see the professional IMG_9919women ahead of me for a while, which helped keep me on track when I had a hard time spotting the buoys, but they had pretty much lost me by the time we were turning to come back to the swim exit.  I stopped momentarily to ask a kayaker if I was headed in the right direction, and just happened to get a big mouthful of water that went down the wrong pipe in the meantime.  After I hacked and coughed for a bit, I regained control, and set back off to finish the swim.  Towards the end I started getting passed by some of the really speedy age groupers, and had to kick a little more aggressively with righty to ensure they knew I was there and didn’t swim over the top of me – not having two legs to kick seems to equate to them not realizing I’m there if they swim up on my left.  I kept swimming and soon reached the swim exit where Zach was waiting to help me out of the water.  I got over to my towel, Zach pulled my wetsuit off, and I put on my walking leg to head to transition.


img_3263.jpgI walked/jogged through the transition area to my bike and sat down to switch legs.  Itook off my walking leg and socks and allowed my residual limb to breath a little while I put on my right sock and bike shoe.  I then applied copious amounts of glide and baby powder to my residual limb to help prevent chafing, and then put on my socks, liner, and bike leg.  I put on my helmet and sunglasses, then grabbed my bike and headed over to the sunscreen station to get lathered up before setting out on the 56-mile journey with my bike.


The bike was my biggest focus going into this race because I hadn’t put in a lot of time in the saddle since my tri bike and I sort of had a trial separation period after Ironman last year.  Coach Mark knew I could work through it, though, and he encouraged forced me to get back on my tri bike and really grind out some hard sessions on the trainer.  I really wanted to do the bike in under 4 hours, but just didn’t know if I had the capability based on my lengthy break from longer rides.  I started out holding a steady pace because the first part of the course was pretty flat, and just kept pedaling and grinding up the hills.  It was quite refreshing to be able to shift gears and actually ride up the hills this year, so that was good, although I did have some flashbacks to Ironman last year when I had to image1 (3)walk up the same hills because I wasn’t able to shift gears (for 88 miles if you haven’t heard that story).  About halfway through, I knew I was on target to crush my 4 hour goal, and I just stuck with it and held my pace.  It was getting hot out, but I wasn’t feeling it yet since there’s a nice bike on the breeze.  I did, however, stay ahead of hydration, and felt like I needed to go to the bathroom for the better half of the bike, which was a good sign that I wasn’t dehydrated.  My leg was fitting a little tight, and I eventually had to pull over to take off a sock to give my residual limb more room in the socket.  This was around mile 50 when I just couldn’t stand the pain of my socket squeezing my calf any longer.  I almost fell over on the side of the road because I was using my bike to balance while I took off my leg, liner, and a sock, and then put everything back on again, but managed to (mostly) stay upright.  One passerby did ask if I was okay, and I quickly said I was and thanked her for checking so she could get back to her own race.  Got re-situated on the bike and finished the last 6 miles, with a total time more than more than 12 minutes under my 4 hours goal – I was ecstatic and actually got a little choked up as I neared the dismount line and realized I had crushed my goal and executed a plan probably better than I ever have before.


T2 was uneventful – I racked my bike, took off my helmet, and then sat down for the leg switch.  I removed my leg first, then my right shoe, put on my right running shoe, and then put on more glide, powder, a gel sock, my liner, and my running leg.  I did it in this order to allow my residual limb the maximum breathing time between leg changes.  I already knew I was going to be in trouble though because of the swelling issue I had on the bike, and I joked with Zach that he actually had to go do the run because I had signed up for the relay and not told him…  Even though I knew it was going to be rough, I threw on my visor, running skirt, and race belt with by bib, and set out to finish what I started.


I finally took the long-awaited potty break shortly into the run, and at least had confirmation that I was not completely dehydrated.  This run course is brutal because it’s on crushed gravel and pretty much 99.9999% exposed with no shade.  I started out doing a combination of jog/walk, but quickly realized I couldn’t keep it up because my left calf was getting the circulation cut off by my prosthesis again.  Unlike on the bike, the gel sock I wear when I run does not have any wiggle room and I therefore couldn’t take a sock off to relieve the pressure.  My only option was to stop, roll down the sleeve that holds my leg on, and pull my leg off slightly to relieve the calf.  I kept doing this every few minutes, and was mostly walking by this point due to the calf issue + mid-90 degree temps with zero clouds in the sky.  Thankfully there were aid stations with ice every mile and amazing volunteers who kept me going for the next mile with my freshly stocked sports bra of ice.  The run course was two loops, and as I was closing in on the finish of my first loop I was seriously considering throwing in the towel once I finished my first loop and taking my first DNF (Did Not Finish).  I just didn’t know how I could keep walking on my running leg with the calf issue and the fact that my running leg kept shooting out backwards because of the loose gravel, slowing down my walking pace.  It was also super hot, and the only cloud that had covered the sun had lasted a mere 14 seconds before allowing Mr. Sun full ability to beat down on our souls again.


Fortunately, just a few minutes after I was having these thoughts of accepting a DNF, along comes Zach, running towards me with my walking leg strapped to his backpack.  He said both our moms had texted him worried about my slow run times and he had realized he needed to jump back on leg duty and deliver my walking leg to me.  As a PC athlete, I get to have a leg handler, so this was part of his job for the day.  I switched into my walking leg, but quickly remembered that I didn’t pack a left tennis shoe because my running leg has a shoe sole on it and doesn’t need a shoe… in my head, my only option at this point was to put on my walking leg, strap on my sparkly silver Chaco sandals, and walk as fast as I could to finish the remaining 8+ miles of the “run.”  So that’s what I did.  I walked over 8 miles in the dust and dirt and 90+ degree weather in my sandals because I knew in my heart that I had to keep moving forward and not take a DNF unless it was forced upon me – it was not going to be a conscious choice now that I had my power sandals on my feet.


The finishing chute was pretty long because you had to once again go past the finish line before looping back around to cross the finish line (something about good picturesIMG_9894 with the mountains in the background), and I power walked and gave high fives to all the kids along the chute.  The cool thing about this finish is that this was the experience I had hoped for at the Full Ironman last year – I wanted to take my time, walk across the finish line, and get a PR (personal record) in high fives.  Since I was so close to the cutoff last year, I didn’t get to have that finish and instead sprinted across the finish line as if my life depended on it.  My race this weekend didn’t go 100% as planned (and they never do), but I felt a sense of fulfillment as I took my time to walk through that chute and across the finish line in my silver sandals. 


Fighting my way off the Struggle Bus

Confession:  I’ve really been in a tough place with my running since the Ironman last summer…  My legs haven’t wanted to move very fast and I haven’t felt like I’ll ever be able to get back to where I used to be with my running – physically or mentally.  Before today, I had done two races so far this year and both were substantially slower than I’ve ever run them in past years.  Despite this, I’ve continued to get out there and get my runs done (however slowly), thanks to the encouragement of Coach Mark.

Given that this struggle bus has been my reality for almost a year, I went into the Cherry Creek Sneak 5 Miler this morning with loose expectations and a stretch goal of finishing in 55 minutes.  This pace is quite a bit faster than I’ve been able to hold for even 1 mile lately, so it was a pretty huge stretch.  I told Zach before I started that I would be shocked if I finished in under an hour, and more than likely it would take me over an hour. 

Me at the start of the Cherry Creek Sneak wearing white sunglasses and a blue/black/white BOCO Gear trucker hat

The race started and I fell into a rhythm.  I kept checking my pace and managed to run the first mile in just over 11 minutes, which put me on track for my stretch goal.  I think I was actually a little shocked in that moment because it’s been so long since I felt that good physically during a run.  I assessed the situation and decided it seemed like a semi-uncomfortable but manageable pace at that point, so I decided to hold on as long as I could and just see how the remaining 4 miles panned out.

To my great shock and delight, I somehow managed to hold that pace for the entire 5 miles (and only 1 walk break through an aid station) and finished in just under 56 minutes, so very close to my stretch goal that I’m calling it a win!

After the better part of a year struggling mentally and physically with my running, I finally feel like I broke through some weird invisible wall during my race today.  I’ll never be fast by conventional standards, but at least I showed myself that I can be “fast for me” again.  It was a good reminder that sometimes things are tough (and can be that way for what feels like a really long time) and you may feel like you’re never going to get through it (whatever it is), but if you continue to stick with it and surround yourself with positive and supportive people, you do have a chance of coming out the other side with a win!

Me giving a thumb's up and holding my medal out to the side. I'm wearing my running, a pink running skirt, a black tank top that says

…and then you get to have a beer with your BFF.  🙂

Jessica and me having a beer together after the Cherry Creek Sneak, both dressed in running skirts and bright colors

Returning to Where it Began

Last weekend I ran the Runnin’ of the Green 7k in Denver.  There wasn’t anything particularly special about this race – it wasn’t my longest or fastest – but it was a great time to reflect back on the 6 years that have passed since I first walked the Runnin’ of the Green 7k in 2013.

Back then, I wasn’t even particularly interested in doing the 7k, but my friend Jessica asked me to do it with her and I mostly just saw it as a social event.  As I’ve written about before (here), it was while we were walking this race that I got it in my head that I wanted to truly give running a try.  Over the next year, I ran my first 5k, then 2 more 5ks that year.  The following year saw 5ks, I RAN the Runnin’ of the Green 7k (and will probably never be as fast as I was that year), ran my first half marathon, and then did 2 sprint triathlons.  Things continuously progressed and ultimately lead to me completing Ironman Boulder last summer (read more about that here).

I haven’t done anything really big since Ironman last June, and I’ve been in a bit of a mental slump for a while because of that.  However, running this race again and looking back on everything that has happened and the things I’ve accomplished in the past six years was a healthy exercise as I jump back into training for the 2019 season.


The Girl with the Robot Leg

I have always loved reading, and consequently, I’ve always loved books.  However, as I’ve written about before, media generally does not do a great job of accurately portraying characters with limb loss/difference (with the exception being Harry Potter, at least in my opinion).  I think this starts with media geared towards young ages, such as picture books.

According to 1 list, there are less than 60 books and stories for children who have characters with limb loss/difference that have been published since 1993 (although the list includes the Hunger Games and leaves Harry Potter off the list, so I cannot guaranty the accuracy of this list).  That being said, even assuming there are some books left off this list, this equates to an average of less than 3 books published per year that include a character with limb loss/difference.

According to the American Library Association, there were over 20,000 children’s books published in 2009 alone!  THREE OUT OF TWENTY THOUSAND?!   I know the limb loss/difference community is small (and even smaller when just considering children who have limb loss/difference) but the importance of children seeing characters in books that look like them from an early age cannot be discounted!  Furthermore, many of the books that are out there are directed specifically towards an audience of children with limb loss/difference.  It is imperative that children who don’t have physical disabilities also see children with physical disabilities in their books because it normalizes being “different.”

For this reason, I am swinging for the fences (as my friend Jason Romero would say)…  Importantly, I have enlisted the help of my mom, Sheryl, because she has an extensive background in early childhood education and knows what makes good children’s books.  My grandiose idea is to have a series of books called The Girl with the Robot Leg that tell different stories about a little girl who wears a prosthetic leg.  Naturally, we would weave life lessons into the stories (because that’s what I like to do) that would be applicable not just to children with limb loss/difference, but to any child who feels “different,” as well as all children who can benefit from the normalization of differences.

Together, my mom and I have drafted a manuscript for the first book to start pitching to publishers.  The first story’s theme is about being brave, and tells about a time when the main character has to be brave because of an incident with another kid making her cry.  Importantly, the message is important not just for children like the main character who feel different, it is also important for children like the little boy who do not have the experience of interacting with children who look different.

I have no idea if this is going to go anywhere with my random submissions to publishers who will actually accept submissions from “regular” people rather than agents (and who probably get a TON of submission), but I’m taking a risk and hoping for the best because I am feeling called to do this.

Costa Rica Surf Retreat

I recently had the opportunity to travel to Santa Teresa, Costa Rica for a surf and yoga retreat with a bunch of other rowdy women.  Surfing isn’t really something I ever thought I would want to try, but my friend Nicole DeBoom is really good at talking me into things…

Going to the beach and the ocean is one of the rare times in life when I find my prosthesis annoying.  My leg gets wet and is soggy all day, my foot shell fills with water and sand that has to be cleaned out every single time I step foot on the beach, and I end up constantly worrying about my foot getting filled with sand and getting damaged before I’m able to clean it out.  In all my adult life, as enjoyable as it looked, I had never just strolled along the edge of the beach enjoying the waves rolling in over my feet as I walked because I was constantly trying to keep it from getting filled with water and sand.

For this trip, however, Zach made me a special water/surfing leg that would only be used for my time on the beach.  Unlike my walking foot, it did not have a footshell on it, so I didn’t have to worry about it getting filled with water and sand.  It also allowed me to keep my walking leg dry so that after my time on the beach I could just hose the water/surfing leg down, leave it out to dry, and put on my clean, dry walking leg and go about my day as usual.  It was a game changer.  For the first time in my life, I strolled on the beach stress free!!!  This may not sound like that big of a big deal, but after years of envying the people who looked so peaceful strolling along the water’s edge, I finally got to be one of those people!  There are very few things that I feel I miss out on in life because of my leg, but this was definitely one of those things until I went on this trip with my new leg.

Standing, stress-free, at the water's edge with Jen & Jen in Costa Rica

I realize I am extremely fortunate to be able to have multiple legs, and I hope my story shows the importance of having access to various prosthetic limbs.  No one prosthetic leg is capable of fulfilling all of the roles of one biological leg, and insurance companies need to start realizing this and paying for specializing limbs.  Giving us the ability to be active and healthy now will save money in the long-run, so please invest in our health, not our later ailments.  *Steps off soap box.*

In addition to this amazing experience of stress-free walking along the beach, I also learned a few life lessons from surfing that I wanted to share:

(1) Every Wave is a New Opportunity – I did stand up on the board, but I also fell… a lot. However, with each new wave that came in, I had another opportunity to adjust my “pop up” and stand up once again.  It was important to just focus on the current wave, not the last wave when you fell, otherwise you’d just fall again.  It was really a great lesson about living in the moment.

me standing on the surfboard with friend Pia in the background and instructor Nego watching

(2) Solutions ˃ Excuses – When I first started out, my prosthetic foot was “sticking” to the foam-top surfboard, so I wasn’t able to make any adjustments to my foot placement once I put it down on the board during my “pop up.” I was getting frustrated, but instead of letting it beat me, I decided to try putting duct tape on the bottom of my foot to see if that would give me the ability to move the foot a little more without being too slippery.  To my great delight, it worked!  The first day I tried it I just put two strips of tape on the bottom of my foot so I could easily remove it if it didn’t work.  Shortly before it was time for the end of our lesson, I was doing very poorly again, and then I realized the ocean had taken my duct tape.  I called it for the day and taped the foot much more securely with duct tape for the following day.  It worked like a charm and I had a couple pretty awesome days of popping up on the board and riding the fluff to the shore after that.

Sitting on the beach with my duct taped foot

(3) It’s Okay to Quit While You’re Ahead – On the last day, I was having a great day on the surfboard, but I could tell I was getting tired. Rather than risking things taking a different turn, I quit after a great ride to the shore even though we had 20-30 minutes left that we could have surfed.  Maybe I could have gotten in a few more awesome rides, but I listened to my body and called it quits to end on a positive note.  I’m glad I did this because now I’m looking forward to surfing again in Hawaii when we go there for our vacation to celebrate Bob & Karen’s 50th wedding anniversary this summer!  Had I ended on a bad note, I’m not sure I would be quite as excited about that.

2019 Race Goals

Last December, I posted here that my goal for 2018 was to complete my first Full Ironman, and as you know if you’ve been following my journey, I am proud to say that I accomplished that goal!  Now, what’s next?  In 2019, I have penciled in a season that, if I am lucky, will build to the biggest race in triathlon… the Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawai`i on October 12, 2019.  I say “if I am lucky” because as a physically challenged athlete, I will be entering a lottery and hoping my name is one of the 5 people drawn to go to Hawaii next year.  That’s 5 total, not 5 men and 5 women, just 5…

As I was deciding what races I wanted to do in 2019, I wanted to make sure I was being mindful of the chance that I could get drawn for Kona, but also building a season that would leave me feeling accomplished even if that isn’t in the cards next year because I won’t find out if I get to go to Hawaii until June.

I also wanted to make sure I have a fun season, so I threw in some of my favorites, like the Runnin’ of the Green, which is the race I walked with my friend Jessica that planted the idea in my head that I wanted to start running.  I am also doing the Colfax 1/2 marathon again, which is the race I finally accomplished my sub 2:30 half marathon goal in 2017 after years of failure to make that cutoff, except this time I’m going to pause for a selfie with some of the animals in the zoo as I run through it – PR in fun instead of time.  🙂

So, even if I don’t get drawn for Kona, I will still have a fun and challenging season with the following races:

• March 17th – Runnin’ of the Green 7K
• April 14th – Prairie Dog ½ Marathon
• April 29th – Cherry Creek Sneak 5 Miler
• May 19th – Colfax ½ Marathon
• June 22nd – TriBella Sprint
• July 21st – TriBoulder Olympic
• August 3rd – Boulder 70.3
• September 14th – Littlefoot Sprint
• October 12th – Kona (if I’m lucky!!!!)

I hope to see you out there, and I’d love to hear about what you are hoping to accomplish in 2019, whether they are races or other types of accomplishments!

8-year-old Me

I was recently looking through old photo albums and I came across an article about 8-year-old me that was published in The Shreveport Times on February 28, 1993.  How funny it is to look back at how this reporter captured my attitude towards being an amputee even at age 8!

Front page of Section E of The Shreveport Times, Stand & Deliver, "There are people physically perfect in every way and they're a lot worse off than Emily is." - Stuart Billey, Story by David Westerfield, Photos by Jim Hudelson. Photo 1 of little kid legs, including my prosthesis, standing in a line. Photo 2: me doing a handstand and another blonde girl about to do one next to me.

The story starts out by talking about when I was born and the doctors telling my parents that there was something not quite right with my left leg – namely, I had a large bump on it and it was shorter than my right leg.  They quote my mom talking about how she wasn’t sure what to expect and cried for an hour the first time she gave me a bath and washed the little bump on my left leg, but then moves into the present of 1993, at which time my parents knew without a doubt that I could do whatever my heart desired.

The photo below explains that I put my leg under my blanket before going to bed, but it doesn’t explain that I did this so I would have a weapon readily available should a monster or human attack me in the middle of the night.  Gotta use what you got!

Photo of me reading in my bed with text below that reads, "Emily puts her prosthesis under the blanket before reading a book and going to bed."

Anyways, the funniest thing about this article for me are the quotes he cites from my 8-year-old self…

First, I explained why being different makes me lucky.

"She gets a new prosthesis when she grows out of the old one, about every nine months. 'I'm hard on it because I play so much,' she says. 'I think I'm lucky to have a prosthesis because it's different. That's fun.'"

Then I bragged about having a removable body part, but also pointed out the drawback of forgetting where you left your leg.

"After gymnastics class, Emily and little brother, Sam, 5, also in the group, get Cokes. Ask Emily about her prosthesis and she smiles. 'My friends can't take their leg off and on. And they can't get new legs. I can,' she says. 'Sometimes I'll take my leg off and hop around and then I'll forget where I left it!'"

After that I matter-of-factly explained that my foot was “loose” before and that’s why they had to amputate it.  For those not familiar with fibular hemimelia, there is no fibula bone to stabilize the foot, so those of us born with this condition often have a “floppy foot.”  Clearly, that wasn’t going to work for me and I succinctly explained that to him.

"At 6 months Emily pulled herself up and at 11 months she walked in a special boot. But the foot was noticeably smaller than the right one. They hoped that with a prosthesis Emily would be able to lead a more normal life. Emily explains, 'I couldn't have a loose foot.'"

Finally, I made sure everyone who saw our family refrigerator would know that I love myself because I’m very nice.  (Apparently not very humble, but I was only 8…)

"Emily glides through the kitchen on her Rollerblades. On the refrigerator is a paper with lines she wrote about her family. It ends: 'I love myself. I am very nice.'"

There’s also a quote from my mom that I really love in this article:

"'I don't even look at it as a crisis,' Sheryl says. 'People would come up and say, 'Oh, poor baby.' I'd say, no, she's not a poor baby."

My parents didn’t treat me like there was something wrong with me or make me feel like people should feel sorry for me.  Instead, they taught me that having a prosthetic leg is an awesome part of who I am, and clearly that had sunk in by the time this reporter talked to 8-year-old me about it.  🙂

What We Can Learn about Disability from Harry Potter’s Amputee Characters

I listened to the Harry Potter books on Audible this summer as I trained for the Ironman and watched all of the movies recently as well. I had read the books when they first came out, but I realized during this go-round that we can learn a few things about disability by examining the characters who are or who become amputees through the course of the story. What I want to say first and foremost though, is how much I appreciated that the movies stayed true to the books in that these characters are portrayed as amputees even though that fact about them isn’t a main point of the plot. Unlike the Hunger Games movies where the filmmakers decided to ignore the fact that Peeta lost his leg in the books, the Harry Potter movies did not disappoint, and instead took the opportunity I believe was missed in the Hunger Games, which you can read more about here, to show people with disabilities in mainstream media without the disability being the focus of the story.

Peter Pettigrew (“Wormtail”)

photo of wormtail with his silver hand holding a want out in front of him, wearing all black

Peter becomes an amputee when he cuts off his right hand to add it to the potion that would bring Voldemort back to “life” in the 4th book of the Harry Potter series – Goblet of Fire. Voldemort then replaces Peter’s hand with a shiny-silver hand. The main thing I think we can learn from Peter is that not all people with disabilities are good – they are just people, capable of being good or bad, or somewhere in between. It always strikes me when someone dotes over me during a race and tells me I’m an inspiration because to them I am a stranger; they don’t know what kind of person I am at all – all they know about me is that I have one leg and I’m out running. For all they know, I could be an egotistical jerk who treats other people like dirt. Yet there they are, singing my praises without knowing anything about me. I think this may at least partially come from the media’s portrayal of people with disabilities as being good, strong for “overcoming” their disability, and inspirational. Funny enough, there are also quite a few mastermind evil villains with disabilities in the media (Captain Hook and Darth Vader come to mind), but it’s hard to find anyone who falls somewhere in between the inspiration and villain roles. Peter Pettigrew, as an easily-persuaded servant, teaches us that not all people with disabilities are inspirational, but not all are mastermind evil villains either – we are capable of fitting into many different roles, just like people who do not have disabilities.

Alastor Moody (“Mad-Eye”)

Mad-Eye Moody standing and holding his walking stick/wand, wearing brown cloths, showing his prosthetic leg slightly

As with Peter Pettigrew, Professor Moody is neither a source of inspiration or an evil genius. Instead, he is a cranky but brilliant catcher of evil wizards. There are two things I love about Professor Moody’s character – he embraces the nickname “Mad-Eye” and he is a complete badass who doesn’t care that he has a disability and doesn’t complain about it or let it get in his way.

First, the nickname… In high school, my friends called me “Stumpy” in honor of my amputated left leg. Although stump is not the politically correct term (pc = residual limb), and although it would be easy to see why I could have been offended by this now that I’m looking back on it in my adult life, I was in NO way offended by this nickname (nor am I offended by it now). My friends used it in an endearing way because my stump was something that made me unique, gave me a way to connect with people, and allowed me to have the prosthetic leg we used to play so many pranks on people. They were not using it in a negative way, but lovingly because we all embraced who I was and how that was a positive thing. In the same way, “Mad-Eye” Moody is nicknamed for his magical glass eye that assists him in scouting out evil in the world, and his friends use his nickname in a loving way, not as a way to mock or tease him for his disability. Me and “Mad-Eye” are two peas in a pod on this issue because he and those around him embrace and love what makes him unique, and I love that about his character.

The second thing I love about “Mad-Eye” is how he is an above-knee amputee (cause unknown, though I suspect it had to do with hunting evil wizards), yet he is right in the thick of the action and doesn’t complain about his “disadvantage.” (Keep in mind that I’m referring to the real “Mad-Eye” and not the Barty Crouch Junior version of “Mad-Eye” when the real deal was held hostage in a magical trunk.) During books 5, 6, and 7, “Mad-Eye” Moody continues to help lead the charge against the Death Eaters and shows readers and viewers that he is a complete badass who can fight with the best of them. It is only after he is betrayed by another character that “Mad-Eye” finally meets his demise, after a long and hard-fought career fighting against Voldemort and the evil of the wizarding world. He walks with a limp, but never allows his amputated leg to hinder him, never complains about it, and never uses it as an excuse for why he should sit out of any task. In a way, he is an inspiration, but he’s not an “inspirational” character because  sort of grouchy, but I love that he is yet another character in the Harry Potter books who falls somewhere between obvious inspiration and evil villain.

Thank You J.K. Rowling!

In closing, I want to thank J.K. Rowling and everyone who was involved in making the books and the movies come alive for spreading a different message about disability than what we usually see in the media, even if it was unintentional.

Stepping onto the Red Dot and out of My Comfort Zone at TEDxCherryCreek

“If you always do what is easy and choose the path of least resistance, you never step outside your comfort zone. Great things don’t come from comfort zones.” ― Roy T. Bennett

Last Friday I got to stand up in front of 500 people (and who knows how many others through live-streaming) at TEDx Cherry Creek in order to share my message worth spreading – that accepting help does not diminish your accomplishments, and that it’s okay to dream big knowing you may have to rely on others in order to achieve what may seemingly be impossible. I delivered this message through sharing my experience at Ironman Boulder this year, which you can read more about here, and highlighting the times when others propelled me through the day to get me across the finish line. Speaking at TEDx was an amazing experience, and yet another example of the positive things that can come from stepping outside our comfort zones.

Me after hair and makeup standing in front of the TEDx letters

I had given a few smaller talks about my life before, but never on a stage like TEDx, so this was way outside my comfort zone. Sure, I’m used to lecturing people about what the law says, but then I’m just telling them about something concrete so they know their rights, not trying to move them with a personal story. This type of talking was completely different.

When I applied, I never thought I’d get picked. This was TEDx after all, and speakers like Brené Brown are the caliber of people who grace that type of stage. Imagine my surprise when I got my acceptance letter!

Screenshot of letter from TEDx Cherry Creek Women dated August 13, 2018 which reads, "Dear Emily, We hope this letter finds you well. We are honored to invite you to present at TEDxCherryCreekWomen2018, and independently organized TED event taking place November 30, 2018, and would be so excited if you would join us."

I was in such disbelief that I didn’t tell many people for a long time – I didn’t believe it was real, so I didn’t want to tell them and have to tell them it was a mistake later. But, it was real, and I gradually started telling my family, friends, and coworkers.

In the months leading up to TEDx, I had lots of other things going on in my life – LIM359’s only fundraiser for the year, visiting my dad for the first time in 6 years, major things going on at work (which were good, but stressful), traveling for my cousin’s wedding, and other various responsibilities. Fitting in the required practice talks was somewhat nerve-wracking, but my friends jumped at the opportunity to come over for free dinner and homemade cheesecake in exchange for listening to me talk for 10 minutes, and my friend Shannon arranged for me to speak at the high school where she co-teaches a mock trial class so I could deliver my speech to strangers (as was required), so I managed to get all of those completed.

Then, at my third and final meeting with the TEDx producers, they asked me how I felt about the beginning of my talk. I told them that was the part I kept changing and Dafna said, “Good! We want you to change it again!” and then went into how she wanted me to completely revise the first part of my talk.

I continued practicing in my head and before I knew it the big day had arrived. The weird thing is that I was super nervous that morning while I was still at home. I was as nervous as I get before races and I thought I would likely throw up like I pretty much always do the morning of a race. I didn’t, though, and by the time I got to the event center I felt better about everything. I still didn’t know what time I would be speaking, but I was onsite and surrounded by all the other speakers and entertainers – we hugged each other a lot even though we hadn’t actually spent much time together leading up to the day.

Me standing in front of the TEDxCherryCreek sign giving my signature double thumb's up sign (before we had hair and makeup done)

I found out I was the last speaker in the first group, and felt good because I got to be done early in the day and then enjoy the rest of the event. We got hair and makeup done, I greeted my family and got them situated in their seats, and before I knew it we needed to head backstage.

Never, in all the times I practiced, did my words come out the same way, so I honestly had no idea what was actually going to come out of my mouth in what order once I got out there on the big red dot. Oddly though, I felt prepared. This was my story and I knew what I wanted the audience to take away from it, so I just needed to keep that in mind while I was talking. About 30 seconds before I walked out onto the dot, I felt a huge wave of nerves wash over me. Surprisingly, once I walked out from behind the curtain and saw the audience, all I felt was energized and excited, not nervous at all. Somehow, I felt like that red dot was right where I was supposed to be in that moment, and I took a deep breath and started telling my story. I was very fortunate because the audience laughed or clapped in the right places and that gave me time to think about what I wanted to say next, but I’ll let my talk speak for itself once the video is released in the coming weeks…

On the red dot during my talk

Through my experience doing TEDx, I made some new amazing friends who are powerhouse women and also learned something new about myself – I actually really like that type of speaking and I like sharing my stories to empower and motivate others. While I don’t have the classic story about overcoming my disability because I’ve never thought of it as something I had to overcome, I now realize my stories have value without that component and there’s a new curiosity in me wondering if there might be a place for me within the world of motivational speaking after all. Had I stayed within my comfort zone I never would have applied for TEDx, and I never would have discovered this about myself.

Me on stage about to cry as the audience applauded at the end of my talk

The Importance of Authenticity During My Journey to the TEDx Stage

Back in middle school, an adult amputee came to speak at an assembly and I got to meet with him afterwards since we had the amputee thing in common.  I remember that his story could roughly be summarized as follows: he was living a great life, he had an injury that lead to amputation of his leg, he was super depressed about it and thought his life was over, then he overcame all of that to get to a place where he was able to speak to others in order to motivate them.  What was particularly curious to me was that when I met with him privately afterwards, he wasn’t particularly motivating or even seemingly happy, and I didn’t really see him as a person I would choose as a role model.  There are two things that strike me about this memory from middle school as my opportunity to give a talk on the TEDx stage looms closer and closer.

First, I do not have a story like this speaker.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with the story of overcoming challenges after an unexpected thing happens to you in life, and I think many people gain a huge amount of motivation from hearing those stories.  However, that is not my story.  I have never been mad about being an amputee, and although I did have some mental struggles after my revision surgery in 2010, that was a mere blip in my story and nothing I would focus a speech around.  There are many people with disabilities out there who share a message of overcoming the challenges related to having a disability, and that’s what many people think of when they think of motivational speakers who have disabilities.  Because that has never been my story, I had never given much thought to pursuing any sort of motivational speaking.  However, one thing that this journey to the TEDx stage has taught me is that I do have a story to share, and it’s okay that it’s different than the story many other motivational speakers with disabilities are telling.  I am extremely thankful to the curators of TEDxCherryCreekWomen for believing in me and my story and for giving me this amazing opportunity to tell my story in a way that is true to me and my personal experience as a person with a disability.

Second, and related to the above, the TEDx producers are all about authenticity.  When I met privately with the amputee who came to my middle school, it struck me that I didn’t feel like I was meeting the person who had just given a speech in front of all my classmates.  He was in front of hundreds of students using his story to motivate them to believe in themselves and believe that they could overcome the odds to live a successful and happy life.  However, that wasn’t the energy I got from him when we met one-on-one.  Looking back now, I think that lack of authenticity was part of why I didn’t feel compelled to add him to my list of role models, although I didn’t realize that was why at the time.  Given this realization now, I think I better appreciate the desire for authenticity by the TEDx producers.  I am grateful for this experience from middle school because it helped me understand the importance of this quality of authenticity in sharing your message with an audience.

With only 6 days until I walk out onto the TEDx stage to share part of my story, I am thankful for all of the people and experiences in my life that have shaped me into who I am today.