Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Dude, what's that on your Leg?

I've been asked a few times now what I've got strapped to the back of my leg.

That, my friends, is the patent-pending (not really) Macgyver leg bag, suitable for any gadget-phile who can only count to 15 and doesn't wear cargo-pants to work!

The bag is filled with all the things I wish I could keep on my keychain but don't have the space for. Included in my bag of tricks are:
- a Flashlight
- Pliers
- Scissors
- Tweezers
- Self-adhering velcro strips (for strapping my foot to pedals, etc)
- Lockpicks (you gotta have a hobby)
- Plastic bag (for water proofing Steve-the-leg)
- one "Skins" compression sock (hides the plastic bag)

... and various other bits-and-bobs I throw in there in case I'm ever in a pinch and need to rapidly diffuse a nuclear bomb then perform a daring escape.

I got the idea when I noticed I wasn't being limited by all the fleshy bits of my calf muscle and suddenly had reams of extra space to play with. Yes, that's just one of the many advantages of the instant-weight-loss program I was on.

It's like carrying a purse, but far more manly and spy-like!

An added bonus is that it gives me a "calf muscle" appearance in jeans without adding bulk.

The important thing is to keep the weight down so all items are extremely small and metal objects are made of titanium or aluminum. All in all, I don't notice the extra weight and you'd be amazed at how often I need the scissors and/or pliers.

Now I just need to remember to take that off before I head through airport security...

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Rick Ball and the Boston Marathon

TORONTO, April 19: Amputee goes for Boston Marathon record

A popular Toronto Transit Commission subway mechanic hopes to set a world record for amputee runners when he takes part in the Boston Marathon tomorrow.

Rick Ball, a 43-year-old father of two from Orillia, Ont., began training as an amputee runner when he was first fitted with a carbon fibre prosthesis less than two years ago.

In the interim, Ball has managed to set the world record amputee marathon time squarely in his sights.

In July of last year, Ball ran a full marathon in only three hours and 10 minutes -- only six minutes off the current world record.

In fact, he qualified for this year's Boston Marathon in the able-bodied division.

His coach, Roger DePlancke, said Ball's rapid progress has been highly impressive.

"He's got a lot of ability. He's done amazingly well, I'll have to admit, in a short time," DePlancke told ctvtoronto.ca on Sunday afternoon.

Ball trained by running nearly 80 kilometres per week, mostly in morning runs.


BOSTON, April 20 /CNW/ - At 3:01:50, TTC Subway Mechanic Rick Ball has just posted the fastest time in world marathon history for a single leg amputee. Finishing in the top six percent of all runners in the 113th Boston Marathon, Ball beat the previous 3:04:00 record for a single amputee set by Australian Amy Winters at the 2007 Chicago Marathon.

Ball's time is now recognized by the International Association of Athletics Federations as the reigning world record for single leg amputee marathoners.


BOSTON GLOBE, April 21 - Ontario's Rick Ball, an amputee who aimed to break three hours in his first Boston Marathon, just missed the mark, turning in a 3:01:50. But he nevertheless managed to set a world record for single leg amputees, dashing the 3:04 mark set by Australia's Amy Winters at the 2007 Chicago Marathon.

"It's so cool to have a world record at this course, the most prestigious in the world," said Ball, 43.

If it doesn't sound easy, that's because it wasn't. Ball, who lost his leg in a car accident more than 20 years ago, suffered severe dehydration and cramps and had to be treated by medical staff for more than an hour after finishing.

"Honestly, it was the hardest, most difficult thing I've ever done in my life -- harder than my accident, as far as the mental and physical pain," said Ball. "I just wasn't going to give up, though."

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Climbing at Kangaroo Point

Four weeks ago, on March 19th, I set a goal for myself that I would do my first outdoor rockclimb in one month.

Today I achieved that goal with the help of some very good friends. It was great to be back on the rock and even better to make it to the top!

Climbing on the prosthesis was similar to what I'd expected it to be but I learned a lot that I hadn't expected. I've been visualizing the actions and trying to work out where my advantage points would be as well as what I'd need to overcome.

As MJ commented in an earlier post, imagine standing on a toe that never gets tired. This was great and it did provide a neat little perch when I could find a secure enough ledge to stand on.

Trouble was, the super flexible foot inside the shoe would also flex a little too much, twisting out of cracks when I didn't expect it, or twisting sideways off the tiny micro-edges of a sheer rock face without providing me the feedback that it was about to let go.

The foot itself is also a bit more narrow than a real foot, so putting my faith in the side of the climbing shoe was no longer an option.

I did like the fact that my toes didn't get sore in my left foot. This was fantastic when I was climbing a narrow crack. No big toe to start complaining!

A lot of my challenges today came down to a lack of sensation.

When you climb, you feel the rock through your feet a lot rather than looking for holds. A bit of pressure through the toes usually provides enough feedback to let you know whether you're going to stick or slip before transferring all of your weight to the hold.

This was definitely lacking on my left side, leaving me the challenge of working out a new system on the fly. More than once, I put my faith in a foot hold that proved to be a mistake. This new "spidey sense" will develop with more practice.

All in all, we had a great day and I had a good sense of accomplishment. I learned a LOT, found a few hitches that I'll have to work out, but eventually, I reached the top of the cliffs.

I'm happy to report that a lot of my mishaps on the cliff came less from prosthetic troubles and more from:
a) being out of practice
b) lacking proper climbing form
c) lacking confidence in my hands/shoes

... and all of that comes from not having climbed in six months. This is great news because I can easily overcome all of those by getting more practice in.

Looking forward to getting back out there for another try very soon! I've got a new form to work out so these are exciting times.

Lisa approaching the top!

Matt taking the hard road; this sheer face really shows his skill.

Mike and Mel, she's the best!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Easter on Fraser Island

The Easter Bandicoot was good to us this year. Instead of chocolate, he brought us Sheryl and Steve, our good friends from Canada!

This called for some extreme tourism and thus a weekend on Fraser island, just off the coast of mainland Australia.

Visiting Fraser comes with some great benefits, namely, the fact that you need a 4WD with a snorkel to get around. The snorkel comes in great for crossing Eli creek on the East side of the island. When you're not driving down the beach or crossing streams, you're bouncing around the sandy 4x4 inland tracks.

As an added bonus, December's cyclone washed away parts of the passable beach, leaving a rocky moonscape to drive around on. The deep holes and steep climbs over slippery black lava rocks made for a great time!

It was like 4WD Fantasy Camp for Yuppies. We had a blast and the grins haven't faded yet!

My own personal accomplishments for the weekend:
1) Driving a manual transmission (my first post-op clutch).
2) Hiking in sand, very uneven and quite a challenge.
3) 5km trail hike in the middle of the island near a spot called Central Station.
4) Not rolling Chuggers (our 4WD) on the wet rocks of the washed out beach.

* I've only had my new leg for three weeks so the 5km hike and sand walking were both a big deal to us. The manual clutch was a pure bonus!

Swimming in Lake McKenzie was fantastic at the end of a great day of 4WDriving. The water was crystal clear and warm as could be. A couple of dingos even graced us with a little wildlife adventure on the shore at dusk.

A Few Fraser Facts:
- The island is considered to be the largest sand island in the world at 1840 km².
- The 120 km (75 mile) beach on the East side acts as both a highway and a runway.
- The original name of the island is "K'gari". It means paradise.
- Fraser island was inscribed as a World Heritage site in 1992.

We couldn't have asked for a better crew! Even "Chuggers", our 4WD, held off breaking down until after the trip was over when his battery went entirely dead for no reason during a quick stop at the carpark after we got off the ferry and back to the mainland. A quick rolling start / clutch pop got Chuggers rolling again and we managed to get him back to his home at the rental shop.

Photo: The crew with "Chuggers" our 4WD on the Eastern beaches.

Photo: Chugging over the sandy inland 4x4 tracks.

Photo: The Maheno, a shipwreck used by the RAAF in WWII for bombing practice.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

A World of Possibility

A friend of mine passed this along. Definitely worth a watch if you have a chance!

This video is about achieving your pure potential, dismissing the "nay" voices in your head that we've all been conditioned to hear and getting on with achievement by tuning in to what's really important.

It is a bit long at thirty minutes, but if nothing more, try to watch the first 10 minutes. You might get hooked. The difference between the first performance and the last is quite astounding (you'll know what I'm referring to if you watch the video).

I was on "one buttock" by the end (again, you'll have to watch to know what I mean).

"The only conductor to ever lead the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, Zander is a prophet of human potential and an unrivaled champion of joie de vivre. Watch as he helps unlock the boundless potential of a 15 year old cellist and teaches the entire Pop!Tech audience what it means to live in a world of possibility."

I had previously embedded the video here but it was causing page layout errors. Instead, please click here to view the video online.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

More Phun With the Phantom

This is getting wierd... but so cool!

I can feel my phantom foot as per usual but now I can also see "my foot". What's left to tell my brain that I don't actually have one? Nothing!

This means that the phantom sensation is actually getting stronger. To some extent, this could be great! If I know where it should be from feel, I'll be better using the prosthesis.

On the other hand, I feel it so strongly now that when I went to get up off the couch the other day, I tried to use both feet. That's a problem when you're not wearing the prosthesis at the time!

Something else that was really bizarre was the feeling of having a really tired foot when we were walking around one evening. I actually thought about losening my shoe laces for a few seconds as it felt too tight. We had a good laugh about that one!