Tuesday, November 8, 2011

ROMP, Orange Crush and Marathons.

Well, hello there. 

There's been two big events since I last wrote so I'll start with those.  The first being the annual trip to Guatamala with the Range of Motion Project and having the opportunity to fit Guatemalans with artificial limbs. This was my second trip but just as rewarding as the first. Many of us who went last year made the same trip, so it was good to see familiar faces and to meet all the new ones. The trip was a total of 8 days and we stayed in a hotel in Zacapa, Guatelama. The entire trip was 60+ people from Hearts in Motion but every morning there were about 12 of us in the ROMP group who headed over the the prosthetic lab. Similar to last year, we pulled up and there are Guatemalans piling up outside the door waiting to get cast and fit and go home with a prosthetic arm, a leg, or sometimes one of both. It is a fully functioning prosthetic lab managed year round by the always smiling Luis. So the patients that are fit by us have continuous care throughout the year if needed, but it's our job to have as many successful fits as we can in a week. The first 2 days were spent casting the patients and I was able to get my hands in on 6 above the knee amputee castings and 1 hip disarticulation. There are all types of amputations, many upper extremity, but I had decided that my focus that week was going to be on the above the knees, as I wanted to get some good practice in.

A trip highlight is a patient that returned from last year, the 84yo man in this picture who we made a below elbow prosthesis for last year. He resembles Gandhi with a cowboy hat and I quickly adopted him as my Guatemelan grandpa. Speaking very little spanish I would often just sit or stand next to him with no words spoken and just hang out. He was still wearing and using the arm we gave him last year which was extremely rewarding to see. He got many hugs (mostly from me) and it was great to see some of the toothless smiles he gave. He may just keep me going back year after year!

After the 2 day castings, we have 2 days to modify those casts and then 2 days of fitting. I modified 4 of my own and I seemed to get better as I went. There were two woman who were both in their early 40's, a 14 year old boy and the most memorable, a 3 year old girl. With some modifications and a few changes all the sockets fit pretty well and after finding appropriate feet and knees, all the patients were up and walking with an assistive device before they left the lab. The little girl was not a fan of me at first. And every time I got near her she would cry and glare at me with as much anger as she could muster. At one point when I was putting her leg on she reached out and took a swipe so I got a good hit on the head. This isn't uncommon for kids, especially when you are trying to put a piece of hard plastic on a leg they are used to having nothing on. But what made this little girl so great is that even through the crying a hitting, she would stand up and take small steps. And by the end of the day she was walking, holding only her mom's hand, with a huge smile on her face. She even gave me a kiss on the cheek when we left. So to go from the crying anf hitting, to the walking and laughing was so rewarding and was one of the many instances of the week that reminded me why we do this. 
So I left 8 days later, having fit 5 patients myself and the team fitting a total of 30. A once again humbling experience and I came back so thankful for what I have. It's a trip I hope to back to year after year as the novelty of it never gets old. An fun addition to this years' trip was that a bunch of us woke up early many mornings and would go on these morning runs through this back road that led up to a waterfall. It was so cool to see the local Guatemalans starting their day by making tortillas on the fire, walking to work with their machetes, herding cows and just being immersed in some of the culture. Not to mention the awesome waterfall we saw a few times. So it was an overall awesome trip and I can't wait for next year! Oh, and I can't forget the Orange Crush. It's delicious and even more so out of a glass, recycled bottle after a long day at the lab. Yum!

The second big event was just 2 days ago where I completed my first marathon on foot, the NYC marathon. I signed up for te race many many months ago knowing that it was on the heels of Paratriathlon Worlds. In typical Melissa fashion, I figured I would worry about that later and who really needs to train for a marathon anyways, right? I had done the NYC marathon on a handcycle in 2004 and 2005 and I wanted it to be the first one I did on foot. the hard part was the timing as after Paratri Worlds the last thing I wanted to do was get out there and do longer 13+ mile runs. So I did a 'few' longer runs, only one over 14 miles and a bunch of short ones just knowing that all 26.2 was going to hurt. So last Fri I flew to NYC, not really prepared to 26.2 miles but knowing I'd make it to the finish with whatever it took to make it there. I was part of the Achilles group and they put us up in the accommodating Union League Club who donates rooms and food to all the Freedom team members for the marathon weekend. They really go above and beyond and since Brian had flown in for the race, we all had a great few days before the race hanging around the city, meeting the other veterans taking in the excitement leading up to the race.

For the run I was assigned 2 guides. one my friend Becca and the other my friend Marc. Their jobs were to first, keep me company and keep me moving forward and second, to make sure no one got real close on my left side so I didn't trip them and they didn't trip on my running leg.

The morning started early with a 4am wake- up to get on a bus and over to the Verazzano bridge where we waited until or 8:55 start time. At 8:55 the horn started and we were off, on a beautiful fall NY day. Since we had an early start we almost had the bridge to ourselves and took in every sight we could. As we came down off the bridge we felt the excitement of the crowd for the first time and realized how powerful it was. The cheers, coming from a crown a 5+ deep were even better than I imagined. And as the day went on, those cheers are what pushed me to the end. But we took it all in and moved forward. At mile 4 we saw the pro women as they passed us a sub 6 min miles. At mile 8, we saw Brian and my friend Jen and Jake and a big hug and a kiss gave me some added encouragement. Mile, 9, 10, 11, and we were moving. Slowly yes, but always forward. At mile 13.1 I couldn't believe we were only halfway. This was going to be tough. My left leg was having some issues with a neuroma that was causing some pain, but at the 14 mile point I realized that it was just going to hurt, so there was no need to focus on it. Mile 15 was up and over the very long 59th street bridge, mile 16 leads you onto 1st Ave and the crowd was once again electric. At mile 18 we saw Brian and Jen again, and the realization that we still had so far to go would set in and i had to hold the tears back becasue it was just so dang hard. We walked a minute, then ran 3 minutes, or 2 minutes, or 4 minutes and we stayed strong. Mile 19, mile 20, each mile feeling like they were 5 miles apart. The crowd though, wow, the crowd. They chanted Melissa, they chanted USA as we passed and I felt it down in every bone of my body. They inspired me. Becca and Marc kept me moving and got me water when I needed it, chapstick, the motivation necessary to get to the end. And when we had slowly made ourselves till the 25 mile mark, it was so overwhelming. I understood why marathoners have such bragging rights as 26.2 miles is long. And it's hard. And it takes every ounce of physical and mental determination to keep moving forward. But the crowd cheered, Becca and Marc stayed at my side and we crossed hands held high, me having conquered one of the hardest things I have ever done. We saw Brian and Jen and Jake and it was a proud moment to realize that we had crossed that finish line. There was laughter, there was tears, we took in the sights of NY and the cheers of the crowds and we did it!  5 years ago, a marathon was a joke. 26.2 miles, no way. But on Sunday it was made a reality, and thanks to my guides, thanks to Achilles and thanks to all the others that helped this dream unfold made it happen. I once again realized the importance of training, knowing that it would have been that much easier if I was prepared for it. But that will be for next time and I'll be able to look forward to a big PR. But for now, I'm a marathoner, a true, real- life marathoner and I'm so proud. And there's no where else to go but up, so I'm excited for what the next one will bring!

So there you have it, 2 big, exciting adventures since I last wrote. There's been speaking stuff, working, a few small trips, my first Michigan State game with Brian (Go Green!) and really just enjoying life. With Veterans day coming up on Fri remember all our past and present men and woman that allow us to live a lief so free. Thank the veterans you see, not just on Friday but everyday. And fly your flags high and proud as usual.

The next few months keep me busy. Some skiing, a little more speaking and the holidays where I'm looking forward to seeing family. Oh, and running a 1/2 marathon with my sister in Charleston, SC which will be her first and a great time.

But until next time, remember all you have, hug your loved ones and Peace Out!