Daily activities can be a little bit challenging when you’re missing a leg. Now add the weight of a pack, and varying elevations on uneven terrain and you are definitely going to see how NOT graceful I am. Hiking as an amputee isn’t as hard as you think! This post is going to talk about how to get outdoors and see these beautiful places even as an amputee.
First of all, I know most people I meet want to know, “Well, why are you an amputee”? I often come up with some crazy exciting story like shark attack while surfing, or fought off a bear on a hike, but the truth is that many amputees have boring stories of unfortunate circumstances. I was born with Clubfoot and Tibia-hemimelia – meaning my foot was turned inward and my tibia was not growing. Nowadays we see all sorts of amputees, and what they can accomplish.
However, in the small town of Mineralnyvodi, Russia (where I was born) they thought there was no hope. My parents were told to toss me out because I would never contribute to society. Luckily, I was adopted and brought to the United States where I was given a second chance. I have the whole orphan born in another country exciting thing going for me…as a child, though that was hard to explain to other 5 year-olds so I would tell kids at school that our pet alligator was a bad idea.
Amputees expend significantly higher levels of energy than non-amputees, and as a below-the-knee amputee, I expend 20-45% more energy than a non-amputee. It is important to build up the strength in the rest of your body in order to compensate for the missing limb, most importantly core and cardio! I work out pretty regularly in order to strengthen these. When you lose your sense of stability you use a lot of core muscles in order to stay upright. If you are fortunate enough to have your other leg, you use and abuse it.
Strangely enough, I get compliments on my calf muscle all the time & then followed up with the question, “what do you do”? I tell them if they lose one of their legs their calf will look the same, but that’s not necessarily true. I have worked with many overweight patients who tell me they simply cannot work out because it is too taxing on their body. You must make it a priority to stay on top of your health. This is one of the disadvantages of having a prosthesis. You experience much pain in even the simplest of tasks. Sometimes I dread putting my leg on in the morning because of a sore, or swelling, but I keep at it because being active is too important to me! (Read about my first triathlon here)!
A common cause for discomfort is socket fit. The fit of the socket is CRITICAL. The socket is the portion that comes into contact with the remainder of the limb you have left. For me, my knee joint goes right into it. Can you imagine constantly jamming your knee down into a carbon-fiber bowl? That is why the fit and comfort of this is so crucial, without it you can experience pain, sores, and blisters. It can make the prosthesis feel even heavier than it is. My prosthesis alone weighs about 6 pounds, so my knee is lifting that 6 lbs with every step because I have no muscle in my right thigh.
There are plenty of difficulties while hiking, but it is a sport you can do at your own pace. When hiking on an incline the lack of a real ankle can be quite frustrating. Going uphill my leg pushes me away from the incline, and going downhill it jolts me forward. When there are rocks beneath me I often lose my footing because I cannot feel the instability beneath my leg. I just recently started using trekking poles, and they have made a huge difference in not only my stability but also my confidence out there on the trail. I typically inch my way down rocky downhills due to fear of losing my footing. With poles, I have been able to increase my speed & my stability, which has made me a more confident hiker.
On some of our colder hikes when there has been ice I have wiped out a few times. A trick for hiking on ice/snow is using microspikes on your boots.
(Here is a link to the Micro Spikes I use Kahtoola MICROspikes )
It does have its benefits though! If the gap is too large to leap I can dunk my fake foot right into the water and not worry about wet socks or hypothermia. Another huge benefit of hiking as an amputee is free access to 2000 Federal recreation sites across the nation! The Access Pass is a free, lifetime pass available to people that have a permanent disability. That gets me (and a car of 4 people) into National Parks, National Wildlife Refuges, and many National Forest lands.
I don’t think you have to be the fastest track star, or the strongest cross-fit gal to motivate other amputees. Hiking is a great way to be active and see the world around you. I have been all over the U. S. on various hikes!.Life is about taking risks and going after what you want. So don’t be afraid to get out there and see the world. If you have any questions or concerns, or really want to talk about prosthetics/being an amputee feel free to contact me!