Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Golf: Manuel De Los Santos

Attached here is the story of a truly inspiring individual: a golfer from the Dominican named Manuel De Los Santos.

Here's an excerpt from the short documentary description:

"Manuel de los Santos is one of sport's most inspirational figures. Growing up in the Dominican Republic, he played baseball from a young age and by 2003 was planning to turn professional. But a motorcycle accident changed his life forever when he lost his left leg above the knee.

Following this accident, he moved to France and on seeing the film, 'The Legend of Bagger Vance', he was inspired to take up golf. Now 26 years old, Manuel lives in Paris and plays to a handicap of just three, competing in high profile tournaments all around the world. His extraordinary golf swing has become instantly recognisable.

Peter Montgomery read about Manuel at the end of 2009 and had the idea of making a film about him. This short documentary portrait is the result."

Watch the video here:

or by clicking this link:

His balance is astounding. It's difficult to bend on one leg like that, let alone hold a perfect golf stance.

Thanks to Brian for sending this.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Snowboarding, Part 2

When I first started down the mountain, I felt nervous and unsure...

You might imagine the mechanics of snowboarding with a prosthesis are a little different. At first, I thought so too. Most of this comes from the natural body position shift from what a proper stance would be to what I felt my leg required.

My bindings were still set to a front foot angle and my leg felt like it was being twisted out of place slightly (I haven't decided if I'll change that for next time to bring my foot more in line).

Wearing a knee sleeve to increase my socket suction also left my knee feeling slightly immobilized at first, meaning I had to consciously decide to bend it and flex against the tight silicon (I wouldn't change this set-up due to the stability it granted).

My speed was picking up and my edges were threatening to catch. The feeling of the hill was familiar but entirely foreign at the same time. I couldn't tell what was going to happen next but I didn't feel like I was entirely in control of the board. I tensed up.

Yep, I made the same mistake every beginner makes (and I'm constantly harping about) of taking my weight off my front foot, leaning away from what was making me nervous (the steep slope) and centering my weight over my back foot, making it impossible to steer. Translation: I wasn't attacking the hill, I was being a wuss.

I reviewed the footage of the first section of the descent from my trusty photographer and recognized my Bambi-like form.

Time to strap in and suck it up. Put aside the fear and figure it out. Besides, I was wearing a helmet, what could go wrong?

I got up again and shifted my weight forward over my front leg. I followed my own advice and bent my knees more, leaned harder into the turns and most importantly, relaxed enough to let the board do it's job. I reminded myself that falling is fun when snow's involved, then leaned forward and attacked the hill, just like old times.

By the end of the first full run down the mountain, I was feeling like myself again, nearly back to old form. We did at least 5 more long runs and I felt fantastic, each one better than the last.

Overall, I had a great first day back to snowboarding.

The muscles in my lucky leg need shaping up and I did have one small problem as the day went on as all that cold activity meant I was shrinking inside the socket, making the board harder to control.

Rather than risking a big crash, we decided to leave it on a positive note and went in about an hour before closing, tired but entirely satisfied and grinning ear-to-ear.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Snowboarding, Part 1

After many long months wondering and worrying about whether I'd still be able take on my favourite pastime, the time and opportunity finally came this past weekend.

From the day I woke up in the hospital it's been a creeping thought in the back of my head. A quiet, cruel teasing thought of "what if I can't do it anymore?".

Outwardly, I told everyone that snowboarding would be simple with the prosthetic as both legs are strapped to the same device, giving me a sort of "helper" control surface from my good leg.

Internally was a different story.

To snowboard properly most of the weight has to be on the lead foot; my lead being the prosthetic leg. Would that hurt, bouncing over the bumps? What about leaning downhill on the leg? Would it twist inside the socket from the motion of the turns? What about edge control, stopping power, the fact that I can't pull back hard from my ankle and toes to make an aggressive turn or correction when I need to (tree avoidance)? What about recovery if I catch an edge?

What about falling?

What would it be like to be an amputee with one fake leg and one broken one? What sort of crutches would THAT take? What if I broke my bad leg, up high? Would that change my shape and socket fit?

Yep, I fell deeply into the trap of my own mind, overthinking and overprocessing, growing more fearful as time went by.

When I was a kid and snowboarding was in its infancy, I was a pretty average skier who hated having to constantly dodge out-of-control boarders. Even the boards themselves looked dangerous: flat on the backside and shaped like nothing more than a wide ski, using thin plastic straps and Sorrel snowboots to hold the heavy thing on. No shaping, no elevated tail, no flexibility. People were being taken away from our local hill by ambulance, bloody and broken.

Naturally I wanted to try it!

One cold winter afternoon, I impulsively (and permanently) traded my new Atomic skis/boots/poles straight across for a crappy, beaten-up Burton with a broken tail and a badly fitting pair of old Sorrels on the slopes of the Innisfail ski-hill, much to the disbelief and irritation of my Dad. He wasn't so much upset I had traded, he just figured I could have done better on the deal.

I never looked back. To me, this was a good trade! I've been snowboarding ever since, even in Australia. This is more than a hobby to me. This sport partly defines who I am, how I grew up and who I want to remain.

So, the time came to strap in and suck it up. Put aside the fear and figure it out.

It was really odd at first but it was only a short run from the parking lot to the lift ticket stand. I wasn't sure how to get up on the board and when I did, I felt like I couldn't steer. I managed to stay upright but decided a helmet would be my first purchase of the day.

The next worry was the lift. Having a board hanging off my prosthetic all the way up the mountain and being totally out of control when I got off wasn't going to be pretty. I took my board off and quickly explained to the lifty that, for the safety of the skiers under the chair, it was best that I hold my board in my arms. He agreed.

I got off at the top... I was really committed now...

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Blade Running

After months of anticipation, seeking insurance approvals, going for fittings and taking cautious test flights indoors, I went for my first run in two years on Wednesday!

There was no pain and the motion felt extremely natural once I found my groove. It seems to be all about finding a rhythm.

I was very awkward at first, having a nearly uncontrollable pogo-stick springing motion off my left side and a resounding "thud" on my right (my real leg). I slowed my cadence and lengthened my stride, finding a more suitable pace. I settled in quickly and everything started to click!

What a great feeling!

My cardiovascular system is still in great shape but my running muscles are very weak. My hamstrings were tight and sore afterward so I'll start small and train up a bit but it's great to be back on the path.

It was a great achievement for my second Legadon.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Amusing Social Experiment

I'd often wondered if I'd be allowed on a particular type of rollercoaster; you know, the type where your legs hang down because the ride is suspended from the track above?

Now, I know the laws of physics and I understand friction, momentum, etc, but I also know I could probably bungee jump with my leg on and be quite confident that I wouldn't die. If you don't believe me, check out my "Sky Jump" post from New Zealand!

With this nagging question in the back of my mind a few weeks back, I found myself buying a ticket to an amusement park and heading straight for the upside-down rollercoaster line.

I was shocked to see a little icon on the "You must be at least this tall" sign that said "no prosthesis" right next to the one about "no pregnant ladies". It appears they've really thought this one through!

Ignoring the sign, I decided I was in the mood for a social experiment in "amusement park ride operator competence". Would anyone even notice? Would they tell me I couldn't go on it? What if I'd been wearing jeans instead of shorts?

It turns out the answer is a resounding NO, they didn't notice or at least didn't say anything if they did. I wasn't turned away, in fact the girl walked right by me as I climbed into the seat and did up my buckle!

Don't worry, I didn't take it on the ride; I wouldn't put others at risk like that.

When everyone else kicked off their loose shoes, sandals and flip-flops, I kicked off my leg. The squeals of two excited boys in the line behind me were priceless. When the ride got back in, I quickly stepped down into the socket and without missing a beat, walked off as smoothly as anyone else.

Remember kids: friends don't let friends ride the upside down rollercoaster wearing prosthetic legs!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Reader Comments

I've had some really inspiring comments on some of my past blog posts lately and I thought I'd share them here! Comments are a great source of inspiration for me to keep blogging and I really appreciate every single one I receive.

There was a great exchange on the last post that I encourage you to read if you're looking for a source of good information as a new amputee.

On "The Elmer Fudd Conundrum" starting with Tiff's recommendation for "Dancing with the Stars" (thanks for the idea Tiff but I'm an "A-lister"):

Sean @ Gisoku Budo said...
Hi Michael - came across your site via another amputee blog from a fellow Aussie amputee, just wanted to say it's great to see you writing about your experiences, there aren't a lot of us out there I think! I'm an above-knee on my left, but still keep active, particularly with martial arts. Loving your travel blog and doctor dramas, I'm about to get the ball rolling with getting a new prosthesis myself, so it's all fresh in my mind! Keep up the good fight!

Joe said...
Hi, I've enjoyed following your website, and it has been a great resource for someone like me who lost their leg nearly 3 months ago. I'm still waiting to get fitted for my first prosthetic. I'm ready to get rid of these darn crutches! Two questions for you: 1) What is your opinion of a pin vs suspension prosthetic? What type of interface does your new leg use? 2) How often do you have to go back to using crutches? I was told by my doctor that most people can only wear a leg for a few hours at a time, and must always carry crutches around. He also said I should always take the leg off when I'm at home. Thanks again!

On "Swimming Revisited"

Anonymous said...
I just started swimming again and found as you did Mike my kick was either slowing me down or slowing push me to the left. What I am looking for is excerise I can do to help me swim and lose weight at the same time. Does walking help?

On "The Chicken and the Egg"

Dustin said...
I ran across your profile and I'm curious what prosthesis have you come up with for rock climbing by chance?

On the post "Tennis: Going Balls Out"

JJ said...
Hi! My name is JJ Larson and I was actually born with what is called congenital amputation. Basically I was just born without my left arm below my elbow and I have worn a prosthesis since I was 3 months old. I started playing tennis when I was ten and I ended up playing division I college tennis. For the heck of it I googled "amputee tennis" and found your site. Its so great to see what other people have accomplished!

Enzo said...
HI! My name is Enzo Amadei Jerez. im from Santiago, Chile and im 24 years old. I have a physsical problem. i wish can talk with you. please contact with me. in you tube you can find videos of me playing tennis!
(NOTE: I didn't publish this comment because Enzo included his email address and I didn't think he would want me to share that, but Enzo thank you for your comment, we'll be in touch!)

Cynthia said...
Hey Mike! I am also a left BKA tennis player - though I am just starting tennis again after 3 years with the prosthesis - and it's great to be back on the court. I'd love to hear more about changes you've made to your game and what's worked (and hasn't). I live in Vienna Austria - if you are ever in the area looking for a game, me know.

Comments like these definitely keep me writing but even more importantly, it's great to meet so many inspiring people out there on the inter-tubes! Thank you!

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Elmer Fudd Conundrum

Things have been a bit quiet lately (too quiet) thanks in part to a ridiculous "Cease and Desist" order I received on one of my travel tips posts, resulting in the addition of a neat little disclaimer in the "About this Blog" section of the site.

Needless to say, I'll have to be a bit more cautious with how I word my posts in the future.

That aside, in the last few months I've been traveling a lot for work and have managed to see some very interesting and remote places. I also have a few good personal travel stories to catch up on; no excuses there! I'll back-post a few of them to fill in the blanks.

My biggest news is that on Friday, I finally received my new definitive leg after months of working with several different agencies.

The new leg is much lighter than my old one (by roughly one kilo / two pounds) and a lot more responsive. It also fits! Imagine that...

As you can see from the photo below, the new leg is a continuous blade of carbon fibre that extends from the socket through to the toe. No moving parts this time! My old model had a separate foot strapped to a pylon with an air shock. This made the height ever changing and difficult to predict as the air pressure changed due to heat, etc.

My old model also required a suspension liner be worn over my knee, greatly reducing my mobility whereas the new model uses a "seal in" liner instead, freeing up my knee.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Racing Bike

If you're an amputee and a motorcycle enthusiast, check out the June issue of "Bike" magazine, a British racing bike publication about an amputee named Martin Culverhouse.

Martin's racing bike is outfitted with a right-footed gear shifter rather than the standard left. The rear brakes are operated by a thumb lever.

Contact me (via the comments option) if you'd like to learn more!

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Chicken and the Egg

The next time someone says "you know, it's like the chicken and the egg thing", referring to that "classic circular reference" of which came first, do me a favour and answer "EGG!" then give them a good hard slap.

Alternatively, answer "FISH!". It's about as relevant in terms of evolution and far more entertaining in terms of a reaction. Don't forget the slap.

There's really no question about which one came first. The egg pre-dates the chicken by millions of years. The fossil record shows that egg-laying fish pre-date birds by roughly 30 million years. The egg even pre-dates the first vertebrates by about 100 million years.

Yep, I think it's time we put that little chestnut to bed.

Strange topic for this blog? Believe me, it's more than topical.

That singularly annoying phrase has been uttered ad-nauseam to me lately as progress for my private-industry prosthesis seems to have been stalled by a lack of philosophical alignment between my care providers.

1) my old doctors won't send my file until new treatment has begun but my new doctors won't begin treatment until they've reviewed my file.

2) neither the insurer nor the prosthetist will begin a case with me until a prescription has been written for a new leg but the doctors require an assessment from both before they'll write the prescription.

3) once I get the prescription, my prosthetist won't begin work until payment has been received from the insurer... but the insurer won't release funds for payment until the work has been completed (and a patient in my circumstance is not allowed to pay directly).

In speaking with them, trying to find a resolution, they invariably laugh it up and say the same thing, as if it will somehow absolve them of their own absurdity: "it's a problem for sure... but you know, it's like the chicken and the egg thing!"

Chicken and egg. Right. Somehow I think even chickens roll their eyes at that one.

Not to worry, I have a plan: "EGG! (slap) now get to work!"

Saturday, May 29, 2010

French Riviera

Life is hard sometimes.

For example, this week I had to go visit a customer site on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea in the French Riviera.

I was forced to enjoy the perfect weather, drink wine, toast a Pastisse and eat gourmet French food in the harbour of Cassis at sunset.

After having to put up with a trip like that, it was comforting to return to my homebase at the foot of the French Alps.

I'm not sure I'll recover from this terrible imposition on my quality of life. Please, send gifts and cookies...

Side note: today I'm whizzing over the French countryside on the TGV high speed train from Lyon, bound for Paris. I made a mistake when boarding so I'm "stuck" in first class on my second class ticket!

Meandering through the countryside has its charms... but ripping along at 400km/hr, scaring stunned looking cows and leaving a veritable sonic boom in my wake is far more my style! Have to go, my chocolate mousse just arrived.

-- Mobile post