One Leg. 100% Badass.
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The 48-year-old martial artist had her left leg amputated below the knee in 2016, but she gets outside more than most of us two-legged folks. “I didn’t sit down. I just keep going. I get outside every single day,” she says.
Saying goodbye to her leg
Lydia’s life changed when she was involved in a motorcycle accident in 2011. Due to her injuries, she had to have her two small toes and about one-fourth of her foot removed. Her remaining “chicken foot,” as she calls it, endured five surgeries over 18 months to salvage it.
But the effort to save her foot came with debilitating discomfort. As a martial arts instructor on her feet every day, she was in constant pain.
“That was horrid for five years,” she says. “I would have to switch shoes two or three times a day just to try and find some sort of comfort. And then I’d have this big swollen foot at the end of the day, every day.”
After her fifth surgery in the spring of 2013, doctors discussed the idea of a Syme amputation from the ankle down. It was a conservative approach to preserve as much of her leg as possible, but Lydia worried about what that would mean for her active lifestyle as it’s a very difficult prosthesis to fit. So she tried everything she could to continue hiking and teaching, even hiking barefoot sometimes — until her ankle finally gave out.
“I sat up one day and said, ‘I’m going to the emergency room. I’ve had enough. I’m absolutely finished with this painful thing at the end of my leg,’ she says. “I didn’t even see it as my foot anymore. It was a ball of pain.”
After a weight-bearing x-ray was used to assess the situation, the ER doctor came back to tell Lydia that they would perform a below-knee amputation in 10 days.
She said, “Thank you.”
Determined to get back outside
Lydia spent those 10 “agonizing” days walking the hills around her home, saying goodbye to her leg, worrying that she wouldn’t be able to get outside anymore. But she also knew that she was going to do everything she could to make her prosthetic leg work for her.
I remember thinking, this is going to be OK. I’m doing this.
“When you come to the point where you’re going to cut your body part off, you feel crazy for wanting it gone,” she says. “But that’s the point I had reached. It was the best thing to do.”
Fifty-five days after her amputation surgery, Lydia got her first prosthetic leg (she’s been through many different ones since then to find the best fit), and about two months later she went on her first hike.
“I remember being so, so scared on any incline at all. When you have a non-articulating ankle, you just don’t want to fall,” she says. “But I remember thinking, really just about two minutes in, this is going to be OK. I’m doing this.”
She hasn’t stopped since, thanks to the nonprofit organization 50Legs (50legs.org), which supports amputees with care and prosthetic devices. Today, she walks, hikes, mows the grass, balances on a stand-up paddleboard, and wanders around the woods near her home in northern Georgia. While she’s “definitely not doing a thru-hike on the AT anymore,” she is able to hike for miles at a time. Learning to walk on a metal pole, as she describes it, started with learning how to walk across her kitchen, but she has worked her way up to 5- to 7-mile hikes.
She was a KEEN fan before her accident, wearing Newport sandals as far back as 2005. Now, in addition to the KEEN comfort and arch support that she loves, she appreciates the adjustable fit of her UNEEK and Newport sandals for her prosthetic foot. The bungee closures make it easy for her to get her foot in and out, and she can cinch it down for the secure fit she needs. Any wiggle room will throw off her balance, and she’ll fall.
Lydia loves her UNEEK sandals for the customizable fit and comfort ... and also for the unique look. “As an amputee, people stare at my feet and my legs all the time," she says, adding that she lets kids put stickers on her prosthetic leg. "Why not give them something cool to look at that’s also functional?”
On the trail, she’s usually only wearing one KEEN hiker, because she prefers to hike with her blade prosthetic. Her prosthetic foot will absorb water in river crossings, making it heavier and harder to keep hiking — and making it possible for dirt, debris, and water to get inside and wear down the carbon fiber of her prosthetic foot. She says she also has to pay attention to the weather and bring supplies in case sweat causes the vacuum seal between her residual limb and her prosthetic leg to fail. She calls that “sweating out” of her leg.
There’s a lot of planning involved when an amputee goes hiking, she says, but being in the woods is where Lydia feels happiest and most at peace. So, she is always trying to inspire other amputees to get out into nature, too.
I just go! And if I fall, I fall. I’ll pick myself and keep going.
“Yes, there is a lot to think about,” she says. “But get out there, just do it. Fresh air is good for you.
“Find a pack of trees, anywhere, even in the city. Drive to where you need to go. It’s scary, and it’s different. Adapt and overcome, and reconnect with yourself. And take the hand of anybody who will help you.”
It’s been five years since she woke up in the hospital without her limb and “no idea what the rest of my life would look like.” Her residual limb is shrinking, so she has to make constant equipment adjustments. And she’s still working on hiking farther and pushing the limits of her body and her equipment to keep doing the things she loves … without any fear holding her back.
“I just go! And if I fall, I fall. I’ll pick myself and keep going.”
Lydia's faves for getting outside