I recently traveled to Durango, Colorado all by myself for an entire week! The Adaptive Sports Association awarded me with a skiing scholarship that included an all-expense paid trip, and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. Many people couldn't believe that, as a triple amputee, I had the courage to ski. (See previous post about my trip here).
Though skiing took courage, the scarier part of my journey was leaving the comforts of my home and family, as well as the assistance of a nurse or an adult who was quite close to me (mostly Brook, but sometimes a friend or family member).
Since my amputations, I have traveled to Ohio, and even to The Bahamas. I've gone through airport security gates, and I even swam with dolphins!
But I have never stayed at home alone for any length of time, nor had I traveled anywhere without an accompanying family member.
For two years now, I have almost completely depended on my dear husband Brook. His caring smile and twinkling green eyes were the ones that greeted me when I came out of the coma. After 100 days in six different hospitals, his were the strong arms that retrieved me from our car, carried me across our threshold, and wheeled me around our house.
Brook learned to gently bathe me (rather than scrub me like a car), and to slowly detangle and brush my hair - even and especially when it fell out in clumps from the sheer trauma that my body endured. He even blow-dries and styles my hair these days, and he does a surprisingly good job, I must admit!
Brook has prepared most of my meals, and he learned to feed me only the smallest of bites.
Initially averse to blood, guts, and gore; Brook has patiently changed all of my bandages and could now pass for a skilled wound nurse. He has accompanied me at doctor's appointments, and he paced outside the surgical suites during all six of my amputation and revision surgeries.
Brook still puts on my prosthetic leg each morning, helps me dress, and assists with my shower.
Brook is my constant source of emotional support, encouragement, and companionship. Those that were present for our wedding day back in 2001 can vouch for us - we have always had a very strong and rare love.
And it probably comes as no surprise that, since my illness, we appreciate one another like never before.
So, it follows that leaving Brook behind when I went skiing was, at best, difficult and, at its worst, incredibly scary.
There were only three weeks between the day I was awarded the skiing scholarship and the day my plane departed. That small window of time worked in my favor, as more time to consider would have meant more time to reconsider.
The night before my trip, I did start to doubt my decision to go. My thoughts began to spiral down the hole of "what if's."
What if I can't get my (prosthetic) leg on each morning? What if I can't get my ski pants on?
What if I can't get my ski pants off? What if my hands get snow on them and break? What if I can't get in the shower? How would I even turn on the shower? What if I can't get out? What if I had "over-sold" myself in the application? What if I had exaggerated my independence?
Several other things were contributing to my self-doubt as well:
First - Even when I had hands and feet, I was not a risk taker. Nor would I be categorized as adventurous or spontaneous. I have often joked that I could be spontaneous next Tuesday from 2-3, if only someone would give me the options ahead of time.
I went to a college that was only three hours away. A very "safe" move. Then I moved back to Charlotte and lived here for a couple of years before enrolling in a graduate school that was located less than two hours away. Not risky.
Today, I live only fifteen minutes from the house where I grew up. I live right near my family, and I depend on them greatly.
Second - While I am very talkative, I am also quite reserved in new situations (I have always been too scared to live in new places); and I didn't know one person in Colorado.
Third - Because I became friends with him on FaceBook, I have never actually met the amputee who recommended ASA Durango. I scoured their website, and I could not find a prosthetist or physical therapist on staff. Then I asked my expert friends at Hanger Clinic here in Charlotte, as well as at Active Charlotte Alliance; and no one could officially vouch for them.
I was supposed to be leaving my home and my peeps
I was flying across the country
I wasn't sure that I'd be able to safely shower when I got there
I did not know anyone
I did not know anyone who knew anyone there
Especially when it is considered that I am not a risk taker...
But accomplishments are bigger when the challenge is great. And one definition of courage is to be afraid and do it anyway. Sounds like a motivational poster with a picture of a big mountain, huh? So, I jumped onto that plane.
And here is where I landed.
And it was a risk well worth taking. My host mom put my (prosthetic) leg on every morning, and she helped me get on my ski pants and boots as well. But, other than that; I took care of things, as my three-year-old would say, "all by myself."
I picked up my suitcases and put them on the scale at the airport check-in desk. I even grabbed them off the baggage claim turnstile when we got to Colorado. I ran and caught my connecting flight. I dug in my bag and found my boarding pass when it was time. I opened, refilled, and closed my own water bottle (after the security checkpoint) so that I was not challenged by the refreshments served on the flights. And I even buckled my own airplane seat belt!
When we got to my host house,
I got my own little self settled in my room. I unzipped my own suitcases (even the cheap one with the broken zipper). I plugged my own chargers into and into their corresponding devices. I plugged in my own hands. Yes, they are battery-powered and need to be plugged into the wall to charge every night. And I negotiated the eating utensils at my host home as if I'd been using them for years.
In case you were wondering...I was able to shower independently (though my hairstyles were atrocious!)
These details are many, and it may seem arduous and monotonous (and silly!) to list them. But these tasks are bragging points in my life. If you had told me two years ago that I would be able to perform them, I would have told you to "stop with the crazy talk."
So you may think it's impressive that I skied down a mountain, but I am more proud to tell you that I did all the things necessary to get up that mountain.
My 12-year-old son may have said it best: "Mom, I feel like you came home with a newfound self confidence." Or it may have been my prosthetic technician, who told me I was "wearing that ski trip."
6,532 feet. That's the elevation of Durango, Colorado.
But I gained a whole lot more height.