Being just 17 years old when I lost my leg, I was at the height of my sensitivity to being singled out. But there I was, on a daily basis, being ogled at, stared at and pointed at, all because of how different I was.
I remember when I first started college just nine months later. There were so many cute boys. Occasionally, as we were approaching each other walking down the side walk, I’d catch a cute guy looking at me. I’d get excited. Does he think I’m cute, I wondered? As we got closer to each other, I could see that he wasn’t looking at me, he was looking at my prosthetic leg or my limp. He wasn’t thinking I was pretty; he was noticing my difference. Then he’d walk by without even looking me in the eyes. My heart sank. That story happened more times than I care to admit.
When I started skiing, backpacking and kayaking, people would stare, only then it was in admiration. Strangers often came up to me and asked questions about my prosthetic leg and about how I lost my leg. I indulged their questions, not understanding how to set any boundaries.
I could feel eyes on me before I could see them. I knew when a child was pointing at me by the whispers from the parents to stop. I was used to being seen for the part of me that was missing.
I spent a number of years shifting how I see myself: from being a survivor and defining myself through my amputation to exploring all of who I am, warts and all. I am more than a gimp. I am more than someone to be admired for doing daring or physical things. Being a mom has helped immensely with taking the focus off of my leg and putting it right where I wanted: on my motherhood.
I was on the front page of the Bellingham Herald this week in an article about my 100 mile walking campaign. I haven’t been in the paper before and I wasn’t prepared for the attention. I’ll admit, it’s been uncomfortable and has pushed me outside my comfort zone. After years of trying to take the focus off my leg, it’s ironic that I’ve come full circle and I’m talking about losing my leg on the front page.
Only this time, it’s not about me. Now the issue is about people in developing countries who may be singled out in ways I can’t imagine, who may be ostracized from their communities. Now it’s about equality and basic human dignity. It’s about allowing people in developing countries to see themselves in a new light, to see themselves as contributing members of their communities. Now it’s about getting other people walking, even if it’s just for a mile.