Dominic Maraglia’s life was, as he put it, “totally, totally transformed” by doing just one thing. But before he could do this, he had to take a good hard look at himself and ask, “what’s holding me back?” So, he sat down and forced himself to be honest and vulnerable. What Dominic discovered was shocking: He had to stop living a double life and embrace who he was. By merely ditching his prosthesis, Dominic could live the authentic life he wanted, even though he was going to look radically different.
Prosthetics have come a long way, especially when paired with technology. You don’t need to ditch your prosthesis altogether to be active, but expectations to ‘successfully normalize’ back into life using an artificial limb continuously may be set too high. As humans, we are used to, and want to see, symmetry in others we encounter. But in most cases, the higher the amputation (above the knee – AK), the more energy is required to use a prosthesis to walk distances, climb hills, and trek in remote areas. Perhaps what needs to be emphasized is that a prosthesis is a vital tool, but not the only means for high-level amputees to remain dynamic. A tool such as high-quality, comfortable crutches can also be used to access the outdoors with greater ease. This step took decades for Dominic to realize.
Living life on one leg and crutches has brought Dominic joy and happiness. He is fit, doing things he only dreamt of doing, and feeling positive about his future. Dominic’s confidence is palpable, and he finds people reflect that back to him with unexpected hugs. It’s liberating for all. Dominic tells us his incredible and inspirational story of becoming his radically authentic self by slowly accepting his fundamentally different approach to life.
How has switching from a prosthesis to crutches affected your life?
I have a close friend who I’ve known since seventh grade. He was with me through my cancer and losing my leg, and all the struggles I had around that. He saw how hard it was on me. After I switched to using SideStix, he was like “wow, you have a new lease on life”, and that’s really how I feel. My life has been totally transformed – I can’t explain it enough. I went from not being able to do all the things I want to do with my friends, like hiking or remote camping where you don’t have access to water, to doing things I would have never dreamt. I went on a vacation to Baja, Mexico all by myself. I drove from Santa Barbara where I was living, and I camped in the remote parts of Mexico by myself for almost 3 weeks. I seriously would have never dreamt of such a trip with my prosthesis. I wouldn’t even dare to dream such a thing.
When I started using SideStix, the craziest thing happened: people at work would hug me all the time, and then people I didn’t really know would hug me a lot. I told my friend about it, because it was overwhelmingly positive, and my buddy was like “that is your happiness reflecting back at you. What you’re seeing is your energy coming back. You’re putting it out, and now people see it and they just give it back”. I was just blown away. My own positive feelings about myself have made me tremendously more positive about generally everything in life, but much more positive about other people. It’s been a nice change. I definitely had a time in my life when I did not have positive outlooks on a lot of things, and I was basically a curmudgeon.
I work in tech. It’s a very demanding job, but in a way that I find actually very exciting. It’s a great company to work at actually. I would have never dreamt about working at a place that’s so demanding because the burden of a prosthesis was so high that it consumed too much of my life. It also caused me to need time off – it wasn’t like I couldn’t work, but I would often be like “I have a sore spot, I’ll work from home”. And this would be at times when I would need to be travelling on business. Speaking of, travelling on business with a prosthesis is no fun, with all the extra junk you have to bring along, like socks and something in case your prosthetic fails and you need to fix it remotely, which I’ve had to do before. It’s just all this stuff, and it just disappeared. That was one of my biggest frustrations with my prosthesis was the routine of putting it on in the morning. Sometimes I couldn’t face it. Some mornings it wasn’t fitting well and I was angry, and I’d get to work already in a super crappy mood, and it was terrible. Now, I wake up, put on a pair of shorts or jeans or whatever, go to work, and I’m out the door in 5 minutes. I’m totally liberated.
How did you end up with your first pair of SideStix?
I had gotten a German Shepherd. He was huge, and he grew to be almost 100 pounds. He was bonkers, and we couldn’t keep up with him. He was my dog, but my wife ended up having to do more for him than I wanted, and I felt guilty about it. One day, she left with the dogs for a walk, and I was having problems with my prosthesis, so I just sat down in my living room, too angry to cry, but I probably would have cried if I wasn’t so angry. I looked up ‘sport crutches’ and there was SideStix. I saw a picture of you hiking, and I was like “no way!”. I showed my wife, and she was like “order them now”.
So I ordered them, and they came, and I felt super weird. I felt like crutches were for disabled people, you know, and then I started using them around the house, and to kick the ball around with my dog. Then on the weekend, we’d take little walks at the parks with them, and I made sure they were remote parks where not a lot of people were around us; I didn’t want to be seen. The little walks turned into mini hikes, and then one day my wife and I went on this epic hike – we climbed 3,000 feet in 6 miles! Meanwhile, I was still going to work with my prosthesis on, so I had this double life. I wrote an email to my entire company and explained the story, and told them that I was going to come to work on Monday with crutches. It was the bravest, hardest thing I ever did, and it was the most amazing thing I’ve ever done in my life. I am incredibly grateful – more than I could ever express – for the invention of SideStix.
What is your definition of ‘defy convention’?
I think for me it’s about being my authentic self, and not allowing societal conventions of what looks normal to actually dictate the way I live my life. Looking normal is not the same as actually being or feeling normal, and I certainly feel much more normal now that I’m not using a prosthesis, even though I don’t look “normal”. I get asked so often “why don’t you use a prosthesis? Do you not have insurance or something? What about those robotic ones?” It’s always good natured, but I get these questions all the time. I go “no, I have one of the robotic ones, but it’s heavy, like 13 pounds!” People have no idea! Defying convention is being my authentic self; doing what I want regardless of whether it makes other people feel comfortable.
What is your favourite thing about SideStix?
Beyond all of the major changes they’ve made in my life, I really like the design. They have such an intent of design, and when you see them, they do not look like a “mobility device”. They look like sports gear. When people look at them, they don’t go “oh, that’s some funky wooden crutch thing”. They’re shiny and carbon fibre, and look high tech. They look awesome! I’m proud of them! I show people and they’re amazed.
When I bought my first set of SideStix, I went crazy and bought all the attachments. I got the sandshoe deck, the snowshoe deck, and the ice spindles. I have actually used them to snowshoe in waist-deep snow. I love them. We had this crazy winter where it would rain and then freeze, and one of the places we hiked had literal sheets of ice everywhere. Even my dog, with his huge paws, was sliding everywhere.I was using my spikes and it was awesome. It was like being Spiderman!
Also, I can’t forget the FinGrips! Holy cow, the FinGrips are totally amazing. They’re so comfortable and my hands never hurt at all anymore.
What are your passions?
I work out a lot. I’m a bit of a narcissist [laughs], so I like having a fit body. I like to look good. My wife and I like to camp and travel. One of our big goals is to do some sort of multi-year excursion around the world with a camp truck, and to be able to do it, we need to be fit. We’re both super serious about eating healthy and working out to stay fit. For me, maintaining my upper body strength allows me to do the kind of hiking I want to do.
I got a lot fitter when I got SideStix. Another interesting thing about getting SideStix for me is that it was the first time since I lost my leg that I actually started to love my body again. I had started hating my body because it was a source of pain and frustration. It’s awesome to love yourself again. I think I had a lot of self-esteem and body image issues that came from losing my leg, but it wasn’t just that. It was also the feeling of being a burden to people, like my wife and friends, because I was unable to take part in fun things. I’ll be honest, it was terrible. I had this terrible fear of aging, and being that broken, old guy in the corner of the office that had a crappy job because he’s given up. I was super afraid of that, and that’s not my personality at all. I’m a very intense and passionate person who’s capable and smart, and ditching the prosthesis and having SideStix has enabled me to live without barriers.
Besides hiking, I love car racing. I’m actually an amateur car racer, which is another thing that ditching the prosthesis has really helped me with. When you’re in high-performance driving situations, like when you’re on a track turning really fast and generating high g-force, the prosthesis flies around everywhere! I used to have to try and devise ways to secure the ankle of the prosthesis somewhere in the car with a Velcro strap, and it was suboptimal to say the least. Track driving is also very demanding, it’s usually hot, and you’re sweating terribly, so it was uncomfortable. Now, I’m much more comfortable and a much more capable driver.
What motivates you?
I’m a very goal oriented individual, so if I don’t have a goal to strive for I don’t do well. It makes me crazy. I have to have a goal. I have professional goals and aspirations for somewhat early retirement, but I race Porsches which turns out to be a rather expensive endeavour, so I’m motivated to earn enough money to continue to feed my Porsche racing habits!
I’m 50, but people think I’m much younger and ask how I stay motivated. I’m not sure if I’m motivated about what I do in my life right now because I can do what I previously couldn’t. Maybe if I hadn’t been through this journey, I’d just be sitting here on my butt. I just feel super excited about all that life has to offer. What excites me are the possibilities of what could happen: the challenges I could overcome, things I could fix, new experiences I could learn from, interactions I could have with someone. I look to the future, and have lots to do.
Do you have a message for other crutch users?
First, I would say maintain your fitness and care about your body. Yes, you’re mobility challenged, and age and fitness impacts us all, but it impacts people with challenges much more. Take care and build an advantage for yourself by staying on top of your fitness. It’s not as hard as you think; small things add up! Change your diet and get into some sort of reasonable, sustainable exercise routine.
Second, be comfortable with who you are. Learning to truly accept and love who you are is such an important thing, and I think that is a really big challenge for people who are other-abled. A lot of people are stuck in what they can’t do. Instead, focus on what is possible. There are things I can’t do because I’ve lost my leg, and even with SideStix, as amazing as they are, I just can’t do them. Here’s the funny thing: I can’t think of one of those things off the top of my head. You know why? It’s because I don’t really pay much attention to them because they don’t matter. There’s all these other things that I can do, so why worry about the one or two things I can’t do when there are thousands of things I can?! I l always focus on what is possible.