This past week was a big one for us, I feel like I say that all the time now, but something clicked for Jake, and it has truly been inspiring to watch him continue to grow. Our WONDERFUL prosthetics company, SRT, partners up with a couple of amazing amputees and holds the “Amputee Walking School” every few months. We were told about this event early on in Jake’s recovery, but this was the first time we attended. I will go into more detail later about this event, but I really want to share what happened a few hours before the actual walking school event began. And don’t miss the video at the bottom of this post!
When John at SRT first asked Jake if he would want a private walking session with Dennis and Todd from the Amputee Walking School, I truly wasn’t sure what Jake would say. But to my delight, he immediately looked at me, then back to John, and said “sure!” What we knew of Dennis and Todd, was only that they were both amputees and former Paralympians. We had also heard that Walking School itself, can be “inspirational”. So we made arrangements to get the private walking session at 4:00 pm a few hours before the Walking School was set to start.
Meet Dennis and Todd
We walked off the elevator on the second floor of SRT, the same space we had spent our “all day” appointment over six weeks ago while getting Jake measured and fitted with his prosthesis, and towards the couches. We heard a friendly voice ring out “Jacob? You must be Jacob!” It was Theron, the pro-wrestling fan that Jake had briefly met on our first visit to SRT. He introduced us to Dennis and Todd, and the next 90 minutes or so fly by.
Dennis is a right leg below knee amputee, just like Jake. His kind eyes and his soft, deep voice took a serious tone to start with. His thick Long Island accent and comforting posture made me feel like we were talking with an old friend. He knew so much of what was to come in our story, most of it we didn’t even know yet. He has been an amputee for 34 years, compared to Jake’s 4 months. We chatted about how Jake became an amputee and the challenges that he faced during those first few months waiting to heal, and waiting to get his first prosthesis.
Todd is an above knee amputee, and he and Dennis have known each other for over 30 years. At one time, they were the fastest amputees in the world, both set world records during their Paralympics competitions in the 1980s. Since then, they have been helping amputees across the country gain mobility and life skills. Their program also helps educate physical therapists on the best techniques to help amputees.
As we sat on the black leather sofa, we leaned in as Dennis told us his story. There was an immediate comfort to sharing “war” stories with him. Jake has not had that many chances to really tell his, so I tried to let him do most of the speaking.
At one point, Dennis asked Jake to take his leg off, he wanted to show him some tricks. He showed him a trick for keeping his suspension sleeve from getting too worn, as well as a few other things. They were both surprised that Jake had only been using his prosthesis for 4 weeks. They were impressed by his walking and pleased to see him walk in without a walker or cane. Then came the truth bomb from Dennis.
Jake had been feeling pretty “puffed up” lately about his walking. Nearly everyone that knew what he had gone through was over the moon excited for him to be mobile and very impressed to see him walking independently. Well, Dennis gave Jake the reality check that he was in need of!
Dennis grabbed Jake’s thigh and poked it. Poked it and poked it. He then asked Jake, “you know what this is?” Jake and I looked at each other, not really knowing where he was going with this. He poked it over and over, then finally said. “This is WEAK.” He took his own prosthesis off and poked at his thigh… not even a slight jiggle.
Dennis was not calling Jake weak. He was making sure that Jake understood, that his residual limb, his remaining right leg, was weak. It wasn’t Jake’s fault, I mean the muscles began atrophying the day after his leg was amputated. There was no blame, there was no fault–the reality was that Jake’s quad muscles were very weak. Dennis was hammering home the point that for the rest of his life, Jake will need to fight that weakness.
After our time talking and getting to know each other, Todd and Dennis got to work watching Jake walk, and giving him some individualized advice and training tips. This was so helpful! Jake could be using his upper body to help propel himself forward. He is already pretty fast, and they were pretty impressed with his speed. They noticed some adjustments that could be made to his prosthesis, and Emily from SRT was on hand to make the adjustments.
Then, it was time to head over to the neuroscience center for walking school!
We arrived to be greeted by Theron, Todd, and Dennis. Jake got checked in, and as we were ready to head to the gym, Uriah walked by. (You remember Uriah, right, the amputee mentor that we first met while Jake was in the hospital). We had run into Uriah only once since Jake had gotten his leg. So this was really the first time he was able to see Jake walk. He too was impressed. We followed Uriah into the gym, and Jake immediately started to help him gather chairs from a storage room.
Now keep in mind that for the past 30 days or so, Jake has been walking with his prosthesis, in therapy, and at home, and occasionally for a couple hours at work. He was not back full time, and we had just begun to leave the house regularly. Without a second thought, Jake was hustling down an unknown hallway loading chairs on a dolly, walking them back, and helping set them up.
This was not the first time that evening that my eyes welled with tears. I watched as Jake and a few other BKAs (below knee amputees) worked with Dennis on strength and balance exercises. Hearing Dennis count out loud, and encourage them to “keep it going!” And occasionally hearing “How we doing Jakey-Jake?” in his thick Long Island accent. There were a lot of “my man!” and “there ya go!”. The feeling in the room was electric, and the feeling of support was palpable.
There were so many people in that room that have helped Jake get to where he is and that will help him go further than he could ever imagine.
After an hour and a half of sweating, and working hard, the evening was over and we left feeling a renewed sense of what was to come. There were BKAs there of all levels, some still new like Jake. There were even more AKAs (above knee amputees), and seeing so much commitment to living a full life was so inspiring.
Most importantly, I think Jake saw what his future could look like if he works hard.
Check out this video I made of the day!
music in the video is by Matthew Lee Massie. (Thanks Papa Buck!)