Truly an awesome gift from a mother
When Sarah Evans woke up, grabbed her crutches and realized her first thought wasn’t, “how am I going to get through the day”, but instead, “what am I going to do with my kids today”, this was the day that Sarah knew she had ‘come out the other end!’
Like most people going through a devastating loss, when Sarah learned her leg and hip would be amputated due to cancer, she was forced to see things differently. She began to question everything with open-ended questions such as, “What can I do to stay active?” “How will I do this?” “Who will help me?” and “Where do I begin?” that launched Sarah forward.
She started reading about and watching videos of other high-level amputees such as Josh Sundquist and Nico Calabria. These men live great lives despite having high amputations. Sarah also discovered SideStix, using them to remain active and to continue to share her love for the outdoors, with her husband.
In her pursuit to learn more by questioning, Sarah has gone on to reach milestones that were never on her radar before her amputation, including climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro and participating in the Invictus Games in London. With a chuckle, Sarah told me her events in the Games were swimming and biking. “I didn’t even swim well before my amputation”, she said.
Most inspiring to me was listening to Sarah talk about her love of being a mother. “I’m figuring things out as I go along”, she’d say (as do most of us, new to parenting!). Sarah also needs to problem-solve, how to mobilize safely on one leg and crutches, with a baby and toddler in tow.
“My first son taught me a lot about what works and what doesn’t work. I think I get out more with two children because I’ve learned so much from my first.” She continues to learn from her boys, and her boys in turn will learn from their mom. They will question the norms and problem solve hurdles. That’s truly an awesome gift from a mother.
What does Defy Convention mean to you?
I feel like many people make assumptions about me when they see me. They make assumptions about my capabilities. I’ve really strived, these past few years, to adapt, overcome my disability and go about life the way I did before. I really feel like not only do I want to prove those people wrong, but I also want to prove to myself that I can meet and even surpass goals that I have set for myself. I don’t want to be held back by other people’s assumptions, nor do I want to be held back by self-doubt.
When did you first come across SideStix?
Actually I found SideStix before my amputation. When the doctors told me about the amputation I decided to do a little research. The only crutches that I was familiar with were those ‘off the shelf’ aluminum types. I thought to myself, that with my active lifestyle, I would likely burn through those pretty quickly. They wouldn’t be durable enough for me. They are great for what they are made for which is for people with temporary injuries. I wanted something better, that would empower me to get around, similar to having a good pair of shoes.
I started Googling words like ‘cool crutches’ or ‘sturdy, strong forearm crutches’ and the first hit that came up for me was SideStix. These were exactly, I mean exactly what I was looking for. Honestly, I never thought I would find what I had imagined in my mind. I was very happily surprised to find what I was looking for.
What are some of your passions in life?
I would have to say right now, that would be my two children. It was a big surprise to be able to have children. My cancer diagnosis came with the possibility of never being able to become a mother. Being able to have those kids and carry them with all of the changes in my anatomy has been incredible. My oldest is 2 now and he is so energetic. He just wants to go, go, go. My passion is to find ways to empower him and to support him, as well as his little brother, and make them feel like any children, that they are not held back because their mother has a disability.
Another passion I have is staying active and going on adventures and doing great things. My husband and I have been together for 10 years now and we really bonded during hiking and camping, going on the river and being outdoors. I want to continue to do those things for the rest of my life.
Do you feel that you can continue to be as active as before?
Yes, absolutely. Sometimes even more active than sometimes I want to be! Kilimanjaro – I signed up for that because when someone asked me to do it, I couldn’t think of a reason to say no. I would have never ever thought in my wildest dreams that I could do something like that. There have been a few events that have had the same story. If anything I think I am more active now than I ever was before.
What is your favorite thing about SideStix?
I’d say, how they have become part of who I am. In the beginning, when I knew that the amputation was imminent, I hoped that one day in the future, I would wake up and the amputation, the cancer and all the ‘horrible stuff’ would be the farthest from my mind. The things that would fill my mind would be; I need to do laundry, or I need to get groceries, or, what am I going to make for lunch? All the normal humdrum stresses of life would be there, just like I had in my life before. I didn’t know if it would be months or years, but I would wake up and I wouldn’t think about the cancer and the ‘woe-is-me’. That’s my favorite thing about my SideStix – they allow me to go about life. It’s almost as if they’re not even there. They’re a part of me now. I’ve gotten so used to them that it’s just like walking. I don’t even think about it.
[Sarah: Thank you, that is such a huge compliment for us. It’s people just like you that make our community so great.]
It’s funny to think back to the beginning, when I read about your story and then I learned about Nico and I read Josh Sundquist’s book, before and after the surgery. It’s crazy to think that now I am on the other side of this, sharing my story!
You’ve been to some very cool places. Do you enjoy travelling?
Yes, I’ve been very fortunate to travel to quite a few countries. When I was growing up I got to travel to Europe and Asia with my family. I hope to do the same with my boys as well. I’ve been to a lot of places with the military. I did Kilimanjaro, so that was Africa and also about a year and a half ago, we went to Tokyo to visit family there. I’ve been invited over to Europe to compete in some warrior events and Paralympic events, so that has been very enjoyable for me.
Which events have you competed in?
Well, before the kids, I competed in the Invictus Games, which is a Paralympic-style, international military sports event created by Prince Harry. So I went to London in 2014, and I competed in hand cycling and swimming. I’ve tried every sport out there.
When the amputation was pretty new, I signed up to go to this sports camp, and I was reading through the list of sports to get involved with… Track, I thought, well I can’t do that. Field, I’m not even really sure what that is. Swimming was really hard for me. Even to do a doggy paddle was hard and awkward. Hand cycling I did a bit of in therapy and shooting I had some experience with air rifles in college.
When I showed up to camp, I had been signed up to everything. I thought, this is a huge mistake. So I walked up to the registration desk and I said, “Hi, I think there has been a mistake. This is me and as you can see I’m missing my leg.” She replied, “Oh, no mistake. You just wait and see.” Sure enough I was eating my words and we figured out a way to do every sport. There is a way to run with crutches and swimming took some time but eventually I got the hang of it again. Working with a swimming coach was something that I really enjoyed. Now, I can’t really say that I can’t do shot-put or discus, I have to simply say that I don’t really like shot-put or discus!
Is there a message that you’d like to give other crutch users?
Those grey hospital crutches were always in the way. I was always dropping them or knocking things over with them. Even my prosthesis was cumbersome at times and was almost more of a hindrance than help. But really, if you just force yourself to try, to put in the time and the effort, it does become easier. Just like anything else in life, it all takes time and learning. Practice makes perfect.