Giving Thanks for a Tough Year

I feel like 2016 has had me constantly fighting to get off the struggle bus, mostly because this year has thrown quite a few monkey wrenches at me, including an accident that totaled my car in January, a month-long bout of bronchitis in March that had linger effects, and a broken rib from a bike crash in July. Given that these incidents kept me out of training (and in pain or sick) for about 10 weeks and I was only able to race two triathlons, it would be really easy for me to throw myself a pity party and write 2016 off as an overall net loss.

X-Ray of my broken rib

That said, I think it’s really important to have some perspective by reflecting and being thankful for the good things that have come my way in 2016 as well.  For instance, even though I only raced two triathlons this year, it was the first year I raced anything longer than sprint distance.  Not only that, but I also started and finished my first Half Ironman in June despite the setbacks at the beginning of the year.  That alone was a huge accomplishment for me, and something that will always make me remember 2016 in a positive light.

Crossing the finish line at Ironman 70.3 Coeur d’Alene in June

Furthermore, both races I ended up being able to do were combined with visits to family in Virginia and Washington (the state), and I even got to complete the majority of my Olympic distance race with my Aunt, so we got some great one-on-one time.  Although I had to drop out of Nationals in Santa Cruz this year, Zach and I turned our trip into a vacation and spent time with friends in San Francisco with a day trip to wine country in Napa and Sonoma, all places I hadn’t visited before.  2016 was also the year I was selected to be a Skirt Sports Ambassador, and I even got to model for them the day after I broke my rib (before I knew it was broken).  We also got a new kitten who is quite an entertaining little rascal, and I started writing this blog.

Jasper cuddling on the couch with me

The setbacks this year have not been fun and their impacts on my physical and mental wellness have been very real, but they have also reminded me how important it is to appreciate what I have in life.  Rather than writing 2016 off as a loss, I’m choosing to focus on and be thankful for all the positives of this past year.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!


Meeting Saule

Every now and then, I meet someone and immediately know they are going to have a positive impact on my life.  That happened to me when I met Saule this summer.  Saule is a young girl who lives in Kazakhstan.  She was given up by her birth parents because she has disabilities, so she’s grown up in an orphanage.  An amazing woman named Victoria moved from the U.S. to Kazakhstan and she advocates for kids with disabilities, including Saule.  She brought Saule back to the U.S. to have her leg amputated below the knee, so Saule now wears a prosthesis.  The prosthetist Saule sees in the U.S. is friends with Zach, so when Saule and Victoria were in Colorado visiting friends this summer, we were able to arrange a visit for the morning Zach and I were planning to leave for Coeur d’Alene to do our first Half Ironman.

Saule and I meeting for the first time

I am extremely thankful that the timing worked out and we were able to meet because Saule is one of the most courageous people I have ever met.  In Kazakhstan, kids with disabilities don’t have a right to education like they do in the U.S., so most kids with disabilities are not sent to school and are actually discouraged from attending.  This was true for Saule until Victoria stepped in and advocated for her.  However, this hasn’t been without challenges.  One of the stories Victoria told me is that the people at Saule’s school had asked Victoria to send Saule to school in pants rather than a skirt because they preferred her prosthetic leg to be covered.  This absolutely makes my blood boil!!  Victoria told me other stories of discrimination, and Saule seemed to be quite aware of how others will stare at her leg and sometimes laugh at her, yet she did not seem one bit phased by it.  That said, she’s already determined to change all of Kazakhstan so they are more accepting of people with disabilities and she wasn’t afraid to share that ambition with me.

Saule and I posing for the camera

We chatted for a while and Saule had me show her how I could run and bounce around on my running leg, and she would have put that leg on and run down the hall if it would have been possible.  In addition to her desire to change the world, it also struck me how typical and at the same type atypical Saule was for a girl her age.  She chatted and played with her friends who were also there, but she also wandered off and confidently introduced herself to multiple other patients who were also in the office.  I know at least one of them immediately fell in love with her and probably wished she could have adopted Saule herself.

Saul with one of the patients she confidently introduced herself to while visiting

After a great visit, Saule and Victoria set off to go tour the Colorado sights and Zach and I took off for Coeur d’Alene.   I chatted on and on about how amazing Saule was until he couldn’t possibly listen to me rattle on anymore.  Meeting Saule was obviously impactful for me, but I didn’t really realize the full level of that impact until I was on the bike portion of the Half Ironman in Coeur d’Alene that weekend.  Fifty-six miles on a bike gives a person a lot of time to think, and probably about ten miles into the ride I couldn’t stop thinking about Saule and how she’s not letting anyone get her down about life and how, despite the challenges she’s already faced, she is bound and determined to make the world a better place for those who come after her.  I actually started choking up and there may have been a tear or two rolling down my cheek because I was so touched by my experience meeting Saule.

At that moment I KNEW I was going to finish all 70.3 miles of that Half Ironman because it was no longer just about me – because I got to meet Saule just a few days earlier, my first Half Ironman was now also about showing young girls with disabilities, including Saule, that we can do things we set our minds to despite what other people might say or believe.  I carried my thoughts of Saule with me for the remaining 46 miles of the bike and on every single footstep of the 13.1 mile run.  She was definitely one of the driving forces behind me continuing to put one foot in front of the other so I could eventually cross the finish line.  In all honesty, I kind of felt like I had a duty to finish so I could show Saule that her positive attitude was not misplaced and, in some small way, provide encouragement for her to keep pursuing her dreams to change the world for the better.

Zach, Saule, Christian, and me

Zach & Victoria originally arranged the meeting so Saule could meet me because Victoria thought it would be good for Saule.  However, I think the meeting may have ended up being more beneficial for me because Saule provided the strength I needed when those 70.3 miles got painful, and I continue to think about Saule’s strength, ambition, and character when things get tough.  I am so thankful to know Saule and I look forward to following all of her future endeavors.


Having a Sense of Humor

“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.”  ~ Charles Lindner

This has been one of my all-time favorite quotes since I first discovered it in high school.  I even wrote it out on a piece of paper, decorated the border of the paper, and hung it up in my room as a teenager.

Photo of the paper I wrote the quote on and had hanging in my bedroom as a teenager

To me, this is more than a quote because it gets to the very core of my attitude towards life. I can’t speak for anyone but myself, so please keep that in mind as you read this – I am speaking only for myself based on my life experiences.  I also don’t want to downplay the impact amputation of one’s limb(s) can have on a person’s life in any way because there are certainly challenges that accompany amputation and it is different for each person.

That said, I strongly believe that having a sense of humor is one of the most important traits I have that has helped navigate life and the challenges that have come with it.  Meriam-Webster defines a “sense of humor” as “a personality that gives someone the ability to say funny things and see the funny side of things.”  I’m less confident in my ability to say funny things, but I’ve definitely been fortunate to have the ability to see the humor in the world.

Me as a kid with a sprinkler on my head

Some examples…

  • When I was in elementary school I would get on the swing and gradually use my right foot to push my prosthesis off little by little until it was eventually to the point where it would go flying across the playground when I was on the forward portion of swinging.
  • I used to put my leg on backwards and walk around, preferably while wearing pants around new people.
  • My friends and I would take my leg and place it in convenient spots to scare people, such as snow banks and behind car tires.
  • When our “spirit plunger” got stolen in high school, I stepped in and donated an old prosthesis that I painted with our school colors and we dubbed it the “spirit leg.” As far as I know, that leg is still at my high school, though I’m not sure whether or not they still use it as the “spirit leg.”
  • My leg when I graduated high school was decorated with fabric that had cats with random other things (mice, fish) hanging out of their mouths.

Me at my high school graduation party with my cat leg

I really think that my sense of humor towards my amputation as a kid impacted the way others saw me and because I was okay with it and made that known to everyone through my silly tricks, they were okay with it too and didn’t see it as something bad or taboo.

I don’t play these sorts of tricks on people anymore, but I’ve tried to carry this sense of humor into adulthood; this is why I always answer questions for kids in grocery stores and high-five random girls in the park when I’m out for a run (happened today – she didn’t say a word, just held up a hand for a high-five as we ran past each other).  Sure it’s annoying sometimes, especially if I’m not in a chatty mood or if I’m in a hurry, but I think it’s important to help random strangers understand that I’m okay with my amputation and they should be too.  After all, awareness and understanding lead to acceptance, and that’s a really positive thing in this extremely diverse world, so I just try my best to maintain my sense of humor and take everything (even potentially offensive questions) with a grain of salt and knowledge that the person probably just doesn’t know even better (even if I think they should).

Because I was fortunate to be given this sense of humor, I really think it has made me more adaptable and accepting of both myself and other people.  That, to me, is so much more important than having two biological legs, even when I think about the challenges that have come with wearing a prosthesis for most of my life.

Diving in to Find a New Passion

In March of 2014, I attended a swimming clinic that was hosted by CAF and designated as the LIM359 activity for the month.  It’s probably important to note at this point that I was the one who had designated the clinic as LIM359’s activity for March even though I had very little interest in donning a bathing suit, taking off my leg, and jumping into a cold pool for an hour.  However, I also realized how much of a hypocrite I would be if I did not participate all the while encouraging our members to try it even if they were a little intimidated, particularly because I was the one who chose the activity and because I’m one of the leaders of the group.

So, I showed up for the clinic wearing my 2-piece padded tankini from Target and was determined to set a good example about stepping outside your comfort zone for the rest of our group.  This was literally the only reason I chose to participate that day, and yet it turned out to be a life-changing event for me.

me, Ilene, and 2 volunteers during lim359 swim clinic

You see, while I learned to swim as a kid and spent a lot of time in the pool (particularly during the summers we lived in Texas and Louisiana), I never swam competitively and hadn’t attempted anything aside from the doggy paddle since sometime in high school when I would go cliff jumping with my friends, and even then we didn’t really have to swim very far.  Getting back in the water as an adult and truly swimming was an amazing feeling and I ended up spending not one, but two full hours in the pool that day working on different strokes.  What started as a day of dread ended with a newfound passion because during those hours in the pool, I also decided I was going to do a triathlon.  I already knew I could bike and run the distance for a sprint triathlon, so swimming had been the missing link and now I knew I could do that!

Four months later I completed my first sprint distance triathlon, and realized I had passion for triathlon.  These days I train 6-7 days a week, so I’d say it’s had a pretty huge impact on my life.  It’s really amazing to think back to that swimming clinic and how I did it only to set a good example for others in our group, yet I found a passion because I practiced what I preached and stepped outside my own comfort zone.

me during triathlon swim

Next time you’re hesitant about trying something new, remember that it could potentially end up leading you down a path towards your passion.  And even if it doesn’t, at least you can say you tried and learned something about yourself through the experience, even if the only thing you learned was that the specific thing you tried was not your cup of tea.  No matter what, we will always have room to grow, and stepping outside our comfort zone is one of the easiest ways to capitalize on that potential.  Believe me, the potential rewards just may be worth the risk!

me w/ a medal after completing an olympic distance triathlon

Interview with My Mom

This evening I interviewed my mom over the phone (she lives in Spokane, WA) about her experience being the parent of a child with fibular hemimelia.  Here’s what she had to say…

What was it like when you first found out that I had fibular hemimelia?  When was that?

Unlike today, they only did ultrasounds back then if there was cause for concern so we had no idea there was anything abnormal until you were born, so when you were first born doctors counted toes and noticed that you had a bump on your leg.  They didn’t know what it was, but a day after you were born the doctor had done some research on his own and thought he knew what it was.  He didn’t know what to do about it, so he referred us to a doctor at Oakland Naval Hospital to confirm the diagnosis and let us know what options we had.  It was upsetting mostly because we didn’t really know what was going on, but we were grateful that it wasn’t anything life-threatening.  Your grandpa talked to a friend who was an orthopedic surgeon and got some literature – there were only about 75 cases in the literature at that time.

my mom holding me as a baby

How did you react when you were first informed that amputation may be the best option?

We knew from the beginning that amputation was an option, but back then they waited until later to do the amputation because they didn’t really know how they would keep the prosthesis on you.  So, they waited until you were walking, then made you a brace, and really waited until the leg length difference was significant enough that they needed to amputate.  By that time, we had gotten at least 4 opinions from doctors in California, Iowa, and Texas, and they had all said the same thing – that amputation was the best option.  That definitely made it easier for us because the opinions were consistent and we had almost 2 years to think about it before we actually had to make the decision.  It was hard explaining it to some people because they had a hard time understanding why we would choose to amputate your foot, which had 5 toes and looked like a “normal” foot, but we knew it would never be that functional, so amputation was the best choice for you.

How would you say my childhood was different than that of my peers?

Like you mentioned in your recent blog, you had to put your leg on in the morning, but you could do everything you wanted to do.  You didn’t swim with your leg on, but you became very adept at hopping and it never seemed to bother you to take your leg off in public.

How did you know if my prosthesis was or was not fitting when I was too young to tell you?

Honestly, you were so rough and tough on your leg that you would often wear it out before it got to the point of not fitting anymore.  I remember you used to wear holes in the front and wear the top edge down so sharp that it would start tearing holes in your pants.  You also had to go in pretty often to get wood added to make your leg taller as you grew, so we saw the prosthetist pretty regularly.  We would also check your skin and if it was really red – particularly on the bump on the front – we would keep an eye on it and take you to see the prosthetist if it didn’t get better. 

When do you think I first realized there was something different about me?  How did you handle that?

I’m not really sure… maybe in kindergarten and only because I remember you coming home and telling me that someone was teasing you and your teacher said something about it.  I don’t remember you ever being teased other than that, but I think you may have realized there was something different because of that experience.  I think you told me about it and then I wondered how you reacted and then I don’t think you even took it that way… I think it was your teacher who realized maybe it wasn’t good what the other kid had said and she said something to you about it, so the teacher was really the one who brought it up.  I think we just talked about if someone did tease you how you would react and what you would say to them, and I think I just encouraged you to be honest and factual with them and tell them that you were born without a bone in your leg and you needed a prosthesis so you could walk.

Did the way you parented me differ in any way compared to how you parented Sam (my brother)?

No, if anything I think I allowed you to be more independent and really encouraged you to develop those skills of independence because I was more conscientious about not being overprotective with you.

me and my brother when he was just a baby


Did you seek out support from other parents?  Was that even really an option? 

That wasn’t really even an option.  Like I said, the literature only had 75 cases, so our support came mostly just from the doctors.  I remember when we were in Texas at your prosthetist’s office, they wanted me to talk to a family because the kid’s parents were struggling with the decision to amputate –one parent wanted to amputate and the other didn’t.  In my experience, I’ve had more people asking me if they could give my contact information to other families and I don’t really remember ever meeting anyone older than you with fibular hemimelia, so I don’t even know if there were other parents out there at that time. 

What made you decide to give my first prosthesis to Dr. Deeney (the surgeon who amputated my leg)?

That I remember clearly because I was so interested in what a prosthesis would look like for a child because I only really knew prosthetic arms with the hooks on them and nobody had one to show us, so I decided to give it to him so he could have something to show other parents.

me and my brother with my mom (my brother and I are wearing matching outfits)

Did you ever have hesitations about letting me participate in certain sports/activities, etc.?  Did other people?

I never did, but other people did.  I remember we took you to gymnastics and swimming and even during school, I would just tell them to treat you like they treat everyone else, so I think other people just took that attitude.  In soccer, they were worried about you hurting someone else, so they made us put a shin guard on your prosthesis so you wouldn’t hurt the other kids.  It didn’t make sense to me, but it wasn’t a big deal so we just did it to make them happy.

How did you encourage me to develop confidence and positive self-image?

I guess I was fortunate because I had the education in early childhood development (my mom specializes in early childhood education), so it’s just how those of us in the field do that.  Mostly it’s just making sure you aren’t doing anything for a child that they can do for themselves.  That’s probably a really important point because so many parents do too much for their children and that negatively impacts the child’s confidence and self-image. 

Do you remember ever having to explain my amputation to Sam (my brother)? 

I don’t remember that, I think he just knew you as you and accepted that.  I’m sure we talked about it, but I don’t remember anything significant. 

Did you ever have to fight for me to be able to participate in activities at school or otherwise because people were afraid I would get hurt (or that I would hurt other people)?  

Just that one time with soccer because they were afraid you would hurt other people.

Is there anything else you would share with parents who may be new to raising a kid with a limb difference?

I think the most important thing is just to treat your child like any other child and just be sure you’re intentional in not doing anything for them that they can do for themselves so they can develop confidence and a positive self-image.


If you have any questions you’d like to ask my mom, please feel free to contact me.

The Impact of Limb Loss on My Life

This week I was contacted by a young mother about my life as a woman with a limb difference – here is her message:

“Hey!  I’ve been following some of the fibular hemimelia groups online and came across your blog.  I’m currently pregnant with my first baby and she was diagnosed with FH in her right leg at her 20-week ultrasound.  I’m currently at 37 weeks and very excited to meet her!  While there are a lot of blogs online, written by parents, about raising kids with this condition, I feel like there isn’t as much online from people who have grown up with FH.  I love that you’re active and so positive – and I’d really appreciate getting your perspective on what it was like, as a girl, teen, and woman, to have a leg difference.  I know this is a very random message, but I’m on mat leave now and have a lot of time on my hands to think about my little girl!  So, I hope you don’t mind me reaching out to you.”   

This is a big question, but I’m going to attempt to address my general perspective on these 3 phases in life through my blog post today.

As a girl, I wasn’t really that aware that I was any different than my friends.  I just put my leg on in the morning, went about my day, and took it off at night before going to bed.  My grandma likes to tell the story of when we were riding in the car together and I asked her when she got her first prosthesis.  My grandma doesn’t wear a prosthesis, but in my head everyone did because that’s what I knew as normal.  Despite my lack of awareness, however, my life did differ from my peers in the following ways…  Oftentimes, I would take my leg off while watching t.v. at night and then I would later hop to bed and go to sleep.  Many a morning I would wake up and the first thing everyone else in my house would hear was, “Mom, where’s my leg?” To which my mom would respond, “You left it under the couch again!”  I also had more doctor’s appointments than my peers, and my leg would sometimes be “in the shop” for a day and I would go to school without it.  I didn’t mind the doctor’s appointments, though, because it meant I got to read books while they worked on my leg.  I also got to go to a camp for kids with disabilities for a week during the summer for 3 years.  During that time, my younger brother would hang out with my mom, aunt, and grandma – he was so jealous of me getting to go to camp that he used to say he was going to cut off a leg so he could go too.

my brother and I wearing girl's swimsuits, ages 2 & 4 (guess)

Another benefit of having a removable limb as a kid was that I could use it to do tricks and play pranks on people.  For example, I used to loosen it up little by little as I was swinging until it was so loose that it would go flying across the playground as I took a big swing, and then I would jump off and hop over to retrieve my lost appendage.  Overall, growing up with a removable limb was different than my peers in some ways, but I really wasn’t aware that I was all that different, and I definitely never thought of it as something negative.

During the teen years I started to become more aware of my body – which I think is probably a common time for girls to start becoming aware of such things.  That said, I was much more self-conscious of zits on my face and “thunder thighs” than I was of my missing limb.  I didn’t really date during those years but it was because I was extremely busy with my horseback riding hobby, not because boys didn’t ever ask me out.  I was also shy, but that had nothing to do with my leg, it was just part of my personality during those years.  All my friends knew me, so I never hesitated to take my leg off and do a flip off the dock at the lake or hop around a slumber party impressing my friends with how I could carry a glass of water without spilling.  I would say that having a good sense of humor was definitely an important quality, as it is for anyone.

By the time I went to college I was comfortable enough in my body that I felt my missing limb was a positive thing that made me unique – not bad, unique – and this uniqueness has impacted almost every aspect of my adult life.  I initially thought I wanted to go to school to be a prosthetist so I could make legs for other people.  This lead me to a job at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the Prosthetics Department where I met my husband, Zach.  I eventually decided that making legs wasn’t for me, so I went to law school and now practice disability rights law, where I’m able to help people with disabilities when their civil rights are infringed.  When I moved to Denver I helped start an activities-based support group for people with limb loss and limb difference.  Numerous other aspects of my life have been impacted by the fact that I’m a missing limb, but these are some of the “big” ones.

Zach and I on our wedding day

One of my best friends recently texted me that she believed I was meant to be an amputee because it has impacted my life in such a positive way, and I definitely have to agree with her – I don’t know who I’d be with two legs, but I’m extremely thankful for the life I have with one.

It’s Okay to Ask for Help

Being perceived as a strong and independent woman is something I have always clung to as very important in my life, even when I was a child.  I don’t know if it’s something inherent or something I acquired as a kid growing up with a disability, but regardless of the genesis, it’s something I recognize in myself.  Asking for help has historically been tough for me because I’ve always thought that if I ask for help it’s a sign of weakness, and that tarnishes my self-perception of being strong and independent.

Ironic then, that I’ve chosen triathlon as my sport of choice.  Perhaps it doesn’t immediately make sense that triathlon would force me to let go of my above-described view of myself, but let me explain . . .

In most sports, I don’t need any help or accommodations in order to participate.  These sports allow me to avoid the quandary of asking for help and weakening the perception I have of myself.  For example, if I want to participate in a 5k run, I just register like everyone else and show up on race morning.  In order for me to participate in triathlon, however, I have to contact the race director ahead of time to ensure they will be able to give me extra space in the transition area (I need a chair to sit on and space to put my sports-specific legs) and find someone (usually my husband, Zach) to act as my handler to help me get out of the water since I swim without my leg and hopping out of the water is pretty tough, especially when there are rocks at the swim exit.  Triathlon is a sport that forces me to ask for help and rely on another person to carry out my race.

Triathlon has taught me that it’s okay to ask for help, and sometimes it even makes us stronger when we do.  Without Zach’s help, I couldn’t successfully complete a triathlon.  I certainly don’t think that him having to assist me out of the water changes his perception and makes him think of me as weak or dependent.  To the contrary, I think it makes him see me as the strong and independent woman I want to be, and that’s certainly how it makes me feel about myself.

It’s more than just triathlon, though.  I think so many of us think that asking for help in everyday life makes us appear weak.  What we forget, however, is that everyone needs help with something at some point.  As human beings, we can feel fulfilled when we help each other.  Each one of us has different strengths and weaknesses.  It does not make us appear weak or dependent to call on others when we need to utilize their strengths because that’s what we need in a certain moment or to complete a certain task.  Let me rephrase that . . . asking for help does not mean you are weak, it just means you’re human and you accept that someone else’s strength might be what you need at a specific time in your life.

I also believe that by asking for help from others, you are opening the door for those people that you’re asking to reach out to you when they feel that your strengths are what they need, whether that’s similar or completely different to the type of help you needed.  For example, while Zach helps me with triathlons, I often help him with writing projects and sorting through issues at work.

It’s really a cyclical process, and you never know who you might be helping when you ask for help.  Sure, you’re probably helping yourself, but maybe, just maybe, you’re also tangentially helping the person providing you with the help as well, whether that’s immediately or six months later when they come to you with an issue they believe you can assist them with.

So, next time you hesitate about asking for help, remember that perhaps we can all be stronger together if we shed those misconceptions, go ahead and ask for that help you really need, and be ready to offer help to others when they need it in the future.

I originally wrote this for LIM359’s blog a year ago but because this still rings true, I’m sharing it again here.


My Twisted Sense of Body Image

I originally wrote this post for LIM359 in January of 2014 – it is slightly edited from its original form in the version below.

“Whoa!” I exclaimed, “ It looks like my leg grew back!”  After years of prosthetic legs that were made to look “real” but always left something to be desired and an eventual switch to the completely bionic look, I finally looked down at what appeared to be two human legs.  My left and right calves, feet, toes, and toenails were symmetrical for the first time in my life.  This was the day I received my cosmetic leg from Alternative Prosthetic Solutions.


I proudly wore this leg, and was grateful to have it when I was a bridesmaid in my friend’s wedding because we had knee-length dresses and I didn’t want to distract from the bride.  She could’ve cared less about my leg showing, but I was happy to have an opportunity to “hide in plain sight” by wearing my cosmetic leg.  It was so odd to be able to wear shorts  or a skirt without the usual sideways glances from strangers to which I had grown so accustomed throughout my life.

Interestingly, the time period when I wore my cosmetic leg was immediately after I had a revision surgery and was on crutches without a prosthesis for 8 weeks.  During that time, I struggled more with the fact that I was an amputee than I ever had before.  It was the first time I really felt disabled because of my amputation.  This was the first time I felt like I wasn’t whole, and it was also the first time I had any real desire to wear a prosthesis with a cosmetic cover.


But something still didn’t feel right.  After a few months of wearing my cosmetic leg, it was cast away to the depths of my closet.  After a few years of my cosmetic leg’s toes creepily hanging off a shelf in my closet, scaring me each and every time I caught a glimpse of it, I finally sat down and really reflected on my seemingly unconscious decision to cut it out of my life.

What I realized was at first somewhat shocking, but really not surprising once I REALLY thought about it.  My “ideal” body image was not me with two biological legs, but rather me with 1 biological leg and 1 kickass prosthesis.   Growing up, I was extremely fortunate to have a mother who taught me that I defined who I was and how I wanted to be seen by others.  During my first 25 years of life, I defined myself as a girl with ambition and a good sense of humor and I wanted to be seen by others as a strong woman who was confident in her own body.  My revision surgery deeply impacted the second part of this because it shattered my confidence in my own imperfect body, a confidence I had always maintained up until this point in life.  I latched onto my cosmetic leg because I could hide my biggest physical imperfection and was more closely aligned with society’s image of a “beauty” that requires symmetry.


Looking back on this a few years later, I’m oddly happy to report that my cosmetic leg continues to haunt a shelf in my closet.*  While I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to rock a prosthesis that looked ridiculously close to a biological leg, I’m even more grateful for the fact that I’m once again completely comfortable in my own skin (and carbon fiber).  I know it probably seems weird to a lot of people that I’d feel more comfortable with a carbon fiber “robot” leg than a prosthesis that mimics a biological leg, but it’s the image of myself with which I’m most comfortable.  I don’t care what society says because I’ve discovered that I’m most confident when my prosthesis is on full display and people know I’m a woman with imperfections who loves my body anyways.  


*Update since the original blog was written:  Zach recently took the cosmetic foot part of my cosmetic leg and put it on one of my “robot” sockets, so I may be sporting that soon.  Interestingly, this doesn’t seem to have as big of an effect on my body image because the bulk of my leg will still be bright and sparkly instead of skin-toned.


Celebrating Your Own Journey

I’ve come an extremely long way in my training and racing over the past three years, but I still struggle to truly appreciate and celebrate what my body is capable of doing.  Even after covering 70.3 miles in a single day using nothing but my own physical power, it’s still so easy to discount my accomplishments because I, like many others, naturally start comparing myself to other people.  The thoughts in my head run something like this… My Half Ironman time was so SLOW.  It was ONLY a Half.  I’m such a SLOW runner.  I wish I was as fast or as fit or as [insert adjective here] as [insert person’s name here].  

Three years ago, I could barely run a mile without frequent walk breaks, I hadn’t swam since I was a kid (never competitively), and biking was just something I did casually and infrequently with Zach.  This summer I did my first Half Ironman, yet I find myself telling others about my accomplishment with caveats about how slow I was, etc.

Jessica and I after walking the Running o' the Green 7K in Denver in March of 2013 before I started running
Jessica and I after walking the Running o’ the Green 7K in Denver in March of 2013 before I started running

This endless comparison of myself to others is absolutely ridiculous & it’s something I’m trying hard to break myself of doing because I realize that it’s not beneficial.  We’re all on our own individual journeys and we each have amazing bodies (including our brains, which I often think are forgotten in conversations like this) that are capable of doing different things – whether that’s running a 100-mile race, completing a 5K walk, or being a brilliant individual who uses those smarts to help other people – every accomplishment, no matter how big or small it seems, is equally worthy of celebrating.

So, next time you feel like you might be starting to compare yourself to someone else I encourage you to try to take a step back and just remember how amazing you are because of all the things you’ve accomplished, whatever those things may be – you are on your own unique journey that is absolutely worthy of celebrating!

me after completing my first Olympic distance tri

The Amputee Athlete’s Additional Logistical Considerations

Logistics are something every triathlete must consider, and there are additional potential considerations for me as an amputee.  This post is meant to be educational for amputees new to triathlon so they will get a little glimpse into the additional things I consider prior to race day.  I don’t intend to address all the logistics of a triathlon, just those that may be different for a lower limb amputee.  Hopefully this will help calm any of those nerves that might be part of what’s keeping someone from signing up for their first race!

Transition Area: I have 2 legs that will be “hanging out” in transition at any given time and it’s easier for me to switch legs if I have a chair to sit on, so I need a larger transition area than the small space they generally provide at races.  I’ve found that if I reach out to the race organizers well before the race, they have absolutely no problem giving me a larger space in transition so I can set up all my legs and my chair without creating a trip hazard for my fellow athletes.  Some races have designated areas for PC (physically challenged) athletes in the transition area, but many races do not.  Requesting this larger space in advance is definitely something I recommend to new athletes because it will help ensure that your transition area is sufficient for your needs and you won’t be stressing about your limbs and the chair fitting in your space on race morning.  Some races have been willing to provide a folding chair for me, but I also have a small camp chair that I always bring with me in case they forget in the hustle and bustle of race morning (they do have thousands of athletes they are responsible for after all).

my legs sprawled out while setting up my transition area for IM70.3 CDA

Getting to the Swim:  My wetsuit is modified to fit my amputated side, which is super skinny, so I’m not able to put my prosthesis on once I’m in my wetsuit.  I therefore use the port-o-potty one last time, then head down to the water to put my wetsuit on so I’m fairly close to the warm-up and/or start area well before the race starts.  I have a beach towel with me so I don’t have to look for a grassy patch to sit down on when I do put my wetsuit on and can be close to the water because I also have a hard time standing on one leg while squeezing into my wetsuit.  I also have crutches nearby so I can use those if I need to get around the beach once the leg is off and the wetsuit is on.  Once I’m in my wetsuit, I hand my biking or running leg (depending on what the run between the swim exit and transition looks like regarding footing and distance – more on that later), to my handler.  My handler then makes sure my swim exit area is set up with a beach towel and my leg (with my liner covered by a towel), and I get in the water.

me sitting on the beach in my wetsuit

Getting Out of the Water:  This is probably the most difficult part because I don’t stand up until well after the other athletes who can run out of the water, so sometimes they go right over me.  I try to swim until it’s so shallow that I can’t possible swim anymore because that’s faster for me than trying to hop through water, even with a handler.  Once I get to the shallow water, my handler is there waiting for me and s/he gives me a shoulder and helps me get out of the water to my towel.  They then help me strip my wetsuit, I dry off my leg as well as possible (with the small towel that was covering my prosthesis), put my prosthesis on, and take off towards transition.

photo montage - 1st photo of Zach helping me out of the water, then me heading out on the bike, then me on the run, then Zach & I at the finish of a race

T1:  Once I’m done with the swim and in the first transition, the logistics depend on which leg I wore to get there from the swim.  If the path from the swim was long and sandy or rocky, I likely wore my running leg out of the water, so I now have to switch to my biking leg in T1.  However, if the path to the transition area is short and paved, I likely wore my biking leg out of the water so I just have to put on my helmet & bike shoe, grab the bike, and go.  My biking leg has a cleat on the bottom, so it’s not good to wear over long distances or through rocks/sand, which is why I sometimes wear my running leg and then switch once I get to transition.

T2:  After the bike, I come in to the 2nd transition area and have to get ready for the run.  I rack my bike, sit down in my chair, and put my running shoe and running leg on.  Because of the system I use, I generally baby powder my leg and put fresh leg socks on before putting on my running leg because I’ve discovered there’s not much worse than running in soggy socks.  Many people wear gel liners, so this will be different for them, but I flag it for anyone out there who is still in a set-up that involves socks against the skin like me.

Finish:  Depending on the distance, I sometimes have my handler bring my walking leg to the finish area for me.  My leg gets pretty sore over the course of a longer distance (half ironman), so I usually want to take my prosthesis off as soon as I cross the finish line.  Walking in my running leg can hurt my knee, so having my walking leg there to put on before having to walk back to transition can be very helpful.

There are many other considerations when doing a triathlon, but I hope this has helped answer some of the questions about how a triathlon may differ for a lower limb amputee compared to someone who has all their limbs.  Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any other questions about the logistics of a triathlon for a lower limb amputee.

emily walking away from the camera wearing her transition bag with legs sticking out the top


Starting Up!

I’m diving into the world of blogging because when I was first starting to do triathlons, I wasn’t able to find a lot of information about the ins and outs of doing a triathlon as an amputee online.  Luckily, I had friends I could turn to, but not everyone has that luxury.  My basic idea behind starting this blog is to provide information for new amputee triathletes so it will be less scary to get started.  I also plan to share stories from my life in order to motivate anyone who reads my blog, whether they are missing a limb or not.