On April 30, 2013 I wrote a letter to Dr. David Crandell, director of the amputee program at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston MA. Just two weeks prior, 2 terrorists detonated explosive devices at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Not only were the lives of the victims forever changed, but their families’ lives were changed, the city of Boston and our country as a whole. Being someone who has lived with limb loss for the past 37 years, I felt an overwhelming urge to reach out to the survivors and offer my support and guidance. If anything, I just wanted to give them a visual of someone who has gone on to live a fruitful and productive life as an amputee. Suffering an amputation via any type of trauma is a shock to the system and can be a confusing, frustrating and sometimes depressing experience. There are lots of questions one has about their future. Women often worry about the loss of perceived femininity. Men, the loss of perceived strength. I may not have all of the answers to their questions, but my experience offers a lot of good sound advice. However, I never got an answer from Dr. Crandell or anyone from Spaulding for that matter. I can only imagine the number of requests for interviews and offers of support that they were bombarded with during that time. I didn’t take it personal and I was fine with the fact that I at least tried to help. Sometimes that’s all you can do.
That was 2 years and 15 days ago. Today is May 15, 2015 and I have the honor, no the duty of serving as moderator at the Champions Of Strength at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. A morning discussion with patients, athletes and community members working together to create new beginnings and get the disabled community back to sports. All I can say is God works in mysterious ways! I never saw this coming. As moderator I am responsible for directing questions as well as managing the overall flow of the event. Our distinguished panelists for the discussion included Dr. Cheri Blauwet, instructor in Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School. Kristen McCosh, Disability Commissioner for the City of Boston. Philibert Kongtcheu, differently abled poet, inventor and entrepreneur. Daniel Metivier, veteran, US Paralympian and alpine mono ski coach. All four speakers live with some type of a disability from spinal cord injury to Polio, and were on hand to talk about the importance of sports in the rehabilitation process. As a member of the disabled community I can personally tell you that the ability to walk is profound in human beings. When we lose that ability or it is challenged, we lose a sense of our identity and independence, and that can be very debilitating. Depression is a common illness among those who have recently become disabled. Many feel no reason to go on living. Participating in sports is some of the best medicine used to treat depression. Our panel shared key insight about how sports changed their lives after their disability. They also answered questions about the growth of the paralympics and the future of adaptive sports. All across the world there is an increasing number of individuals participating in adaptive sports programs with the hopes of one day competing in the paralympic games. Having discussions such as this will ensure that funding, education, training and equipment is available not only for the newly disabled, but for those future athletes as well. It was such an inspiration to meet with and talk to these four intelligent, productive individuals who all faced tremendous adversity but went on to become leaders in our society, and who are continuously working hard to provide a better environment for the rest of the disabled community.
“Always stay prepared. You never know when your preparation will meet opportunity” is a message that I share with students that I mentor to. My opportunity to moderate for this powerful discussion came about in March of this year when I was coaching at the AIG Winter Summit in VT. There I met Ms. Mary Patstone, Network Director of Adaptive Sports and Recreation at Spaulding Hospital. Mary thought because of my personality and positive attitude that I would be a perfect fit for the part. All I can say is that God works perfectly in His own time. Although I thought I had something of value to offer the survivors of the marathon bombings 2 years ago, He had something else planned for me. I got a chance to share my thoughts about the importance of adaptive sports programs for the disabled community with the people who donate funds to the hospital. Having been one who didn’t get to play adaptive sports in high school, I shared with the donors how much that hurt me psychologically as a teen. The lack of confidence that I secretly lived with. The insecurity about my new physical condition. The constantly feeling like everyone was staring at me for being different. I wore long sleeve shirts to hide the burn scars on my arms. I wore long pants to hide my prosthetic legs. Sure I was accepted by my friends and family, but to those who didn’t know me, I felt as though I was looked down upon. That I was stared at with pity. That I was classified to ride the short bus to school. That was a painful experience that I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy. That’s why I was so passionate about reaching out to the bombing survivors and offering my support. I could identify first hand with the emotions and the frustrations that they would be experiencing. Personally I never got that kind of support from another amputee. Support groups just weren’t that common back in the 70’s. Adaptive sports was unheard of. Studies have shown that participating in sports programs can greatly improve the quality of anyone’s life. I often think of how I would have benefitted greatly from being able to play sports with or just talk to other amputees about life in general. Not having that support personally drove me to become the advocate for the disabled that I am. I don’t want anyone to experience what I went through. Today I am a proud board member and treasurer for the Orthotic And Prosthetic Activities Foundation or OPAF (opafonline.org) as well as a certified peer visitor for the Amputee Coalition Of America (amputee-coalition.org). I attend events all across the country that offer education, support and advocacy to the disabled community. Together we are strong. Together we can overcome the challenges of life.
It may have taken two years but I finally got a chance to give something back of myself to Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. Over the past two years I have met with and befriended a number of the marathon bombing survivors. If experience is a teacher, the best advice I can give you is to never give up on your dreams! If you feel it in your heart, if you feel like there’s something that you’re supposed to do with your life, pursue it with all that you have. Even if it doesn’t seem like you’re making any progress, just keep pressing forward. You never know when that door of opportunity will be opened for you. And if it doesn’t open, kick that bitch in!