Back in May I spoke on a panel of women for the 5 Point Film Festival in Carbondale. I met four amazing women one of which is learning to walk again after 17 years of being a paraplegic. Amanda sent this update a few days ago after spending 30 minutes on a treadmill! Absolutely amazing!
Email from Amanda:
I’m through accepting limits
‘Cuz someone says they’re so
Some things I cannot change
But till I try, I’ll never know!
It’s time to try
—Defying Gravity from Wicked
Altering the weight of my world…
Today I walked on my legs for thirty minutes in the most normal unrestricted gait for the first time in seventeen years of paralysis! No, I didn’t even use my leg braces. Imagine being a NASA astronaut suspended in a pressure regulated device that defies gravity. Today was my third day on the Aspen Club & Spa’s newest toy, the Alter-G, an anti-gravity treadmill. With the help of my trainer, Mark Alderdice, and my friend Zander, I threaded my legs into a pair of customized neoprene compression shorts and wormed my way into the machine. Mark zipped the skirt-like extension at my waist to the ballooned frame and I wiggled my legs into position.
“Okay Amanda, put all your weight on the treadmill and keep as still as possible.”
Mark touched the computer screen while it calibrated my body weight. From a crouched position I rose to standing as the bubble inflated. Digital numbers clicked by 20, 30, 40, 50, 60…Within seconds I was almost weightless and completely vertical standing tall on my own two legs…without leg braces!
“Are you ready for the treadmill Amanda?” asked Mark
“Yes, go for it. I’m ready. I won’t know ‘til I try. Now let me FLY!”
“We’ll start really slowly. We can increase the speed in one percent increments.”
Before I knew it I was walking!
It’s been so long. It’s almost too long to remember. Something has changed within me. I feel tingles. My legs are alive. They’re moving. Blood pumps through my veins. I feel light yet I’m supported. I’m almost weightless but I can walk! I’m defying gravity. I’m defying the odds. I would never have imagined it possible—especially two years ago prior to my first embryonic stem cell injection. I couldn’t move anything below my hips for fifteen and a half years. My body is still awakening. I am walking! It’s happening. It’s possible.
Words can’t even describe my sensation of standing tall in my five foot seven frame on my own two legs while walking in a true heel-toe-bend-knee-swing-forward motion. As I marched onward consciously focusing on planting one foot in front of the other, I stretched my memory back to when I was a teenager recalling the days when my legs ached after ballet or running hard. Today my legs ached…and they are still aching and tingling as I sit at my computer this afternoon. I have longed to feel my leg muscles ache since that fateful ski accident that rendered me a paraplegic seventeen years ago.
While the idea of unweighting isn’t new, the Alter-G is apparently the first company (www.alter-g.com) to use a pressurized bubble that provides a counterforce to a person’s bodyweight, reducing the effective weight on the treadmill surface. In essence, the machine gave me unrestricted mobility to maintain my normal body position and a somewhat normal gait.
“What do I look like Mark? Normal?”
“Well…n-o-r-m-a-l…like you’ve had a few drinks!” We laughed. “But you’re getting there.”
Actually, Mark and Zander were amazed at my newfound ability to move my trace muscles in this weightless device. Through the gift of the Aspen Club & Spa I will have the opportunity to use the Alter-G machine twice a week incorporating it into my therapeutic regimen. Thank you Michael Fox and thank you Mark (and Zander too). I am grateful beyond words. Today, you brought me to tears once again—sobering tears that remind me that I can be beautiful in my tallness and that with a little determination and help from my friends I can achieve the impossible.
So if you care to find me
Look to the western sky!
As someone told me lately:
“Ev’ryone deserves the chance to fly!”
And if I’m flying solo
At least I’m flying free
To those who’d ground me
Take a message back from me
Tell them how I am
I’m flying high
And soon I’ll match them in renown
And nobody in all of Oz
No Wizard that there is or was
Is ever gonna bring me down!
—Defying Gravity from Wicked
“Human Embryonic Stem Cell Therapy has restored life into my limbs and HOPE back into my vocabulary. While my spinal cord injury took away my ability to walk, it didn’t take away my ability to dream. I am making my dream my reality one baby step at a time.”