Why Climbing is the New Grounded – Life after Amputation
Anna described the year that followed her accident as feeling “like five years”. In this slow-motion time warp, as the emotional turmoil settled within her, Anna discovered unexpected strength, deep gratitude and also an amazing clarity about the really important things in her life.
Anna is a scientist, a climber and now an amputee. She continues to discover new truths about herself and wisdom about life in general. The amputation resulted from an accident in the mountains thirteen months ago. Although she was a self-proclaimed ‘head-person’, Anna now listens to her ‘gut’ when determining what’s right for her. “I’m trying new things and discovering what is possible. I have learned no one can do this for you.”
Anna has also learned that the support of her family, friends and co-workers has had a huge impact on her ability to embrace rehab and heal.
With just a year under her belt, Anna has returned to the mountains to climb. She feels grounded outdoors and with the newly appreciated intuition of her ‘gut’ she continues to try new things and discover more about herself.
At the end of our conversation, Anna thanked me for the SideStix poster that was included with her SideStix. It now hangs in her office and it gives her (and others) daily inspiration.
We believe in the limitless possibilities of what can be. That greatness is found within. And freedom is just a step away. Knowing that with every new challenge we accept, and every new path we embark upon, the extraordinary is waiting to be discovered. Because we refuse to be defined by the perceptions of others. But by the victories we achieve everyday.
What does Defy Convention mean to you?
Anna – I learned throughout the last year that it is very important to listen to my gut feeling and not so much to what doctors or society thinks I can or cannot do. Trying out new things myself and seeing what is possible – that is defying convention for me.
How long has it been since you became an amputee?
Anna – Around thirteen months. I spent most of the time in Germany during my rehabilitation to be with my family and boyfriend but now I am home in Amsterdam again and getting back to my life here.
The last year felt more like seven or ten years to me. Fortunately, I have found a good place for me – a place to accept myself and the life that I have; to enjoy the small things in life and to be grateful for every day.
What is your passion in life?
Anna – I am very passionate about climbing. It became even more important to me as it has been the driving force behind my recovery. Even right after the accident I said “I want to climb again.” And two months after heaving my very first prosthetic I went climbing again and that changed everything for me. I realized that sooner or later I will be able to do everything again: being able to walk properly, to climb indoors with my friends and to go on climbing trips outdoors with my boyfriend. The wish to climb again was my biggest drive.
Sometimes I believe climbers are born climbers.
Anna – I discovered climbing and bouldering around five years ago. I’ve always had a strong connection to the outdoors. As a child, I loved to be in the forest for long walks or horse riding. I went on long hiking trips with my family – and later on my own – in the mountains. I always loved sitting on my bike, forgetting everything around me, and going on biking trips, equipped with a tent, food and a stove. Being outdoors really grounds me.
How does it feel to be essentially plunged into a community (SideStix community) because of an accident? Now that you are meeting other users that are climbers too.
Anna – I was never really a community person, but that changed throughout the last year. Seeing other people going through the same things and still doing what they love to do is very important and a big inspiration for me.
Alleles is another community I feel a part of. The company makes prosthetic covers that allow people to show their prosthetic and to be proud of it. A prosthetic is kind of an unnatural and robotic thing and Alleles tries to change that by turning it into something beautiful and individualistic. You can even change your cover just like a pair of glasses or shoes, depending on how you are feeling that day.
What’s your favorite thing about SideStix?
Anna – That would definitely be the Tornado tip. They stick so well to the ground and make walking with crutches so easy and enjoyable. It gives me great confidence for walking without my prosthetic as well as stability for approaching the rock for a climb outdoors.
The grips are fantastic too and the adjustable cuffs allow me to grab things easily as well as open and close doors.
How would you describe a perfect day, in your life?
Anna – It would have to be waking up at a campsite. The sun is shining and I’m waking up in my sleeping bag in a tent, with birds chirping outside. The rest of the day is spent climbing, hiking or biking – being active in someway. In the evening, I’d sit around the fireplace with my partner or friends, cooking a meal together and talking about the day and the next day’s activity. Then probably going to bed early and get rested for the next day.
What motivates you in your daily life?
Anna – Being social: meeting friends for a coffee, some food or a climbing session and enjoying their company.
Also, getting back to work motivates me – to be a scientist again and to talk and discuss science related things with my colleagues. In a way, it’s like being back to my nerdy self.
What type of scientist are you?
Anna – I’m a PhD student in a group in Amsterdam and we are working on a vaccine against HIV-1.
Do you have a message for other crutch users?
Anna – Go ahead and try things out. Even if someone tells you it’s impossible, just see for yourself. The best way to do so was for me to have good people around and to be in a safe environment. In the end, you’re the only one who can say if something is possible or not.
Are you an above or below the knee amputee?
Anna – I am a below the knee amputee.
After only 13 months you are doing so great. You sound like you are healing well.
Anna – Looking back, the most important thing for me was the social aspect of healing; the social system around me: my boyfriend, family, friends, in Berlin as well as in Amsterdam, and my colleagues. I really do have wonderful people around me.
Also the people I have met along last year’s journey: my prosthetist, physiotherapist and occupational therapist.
All of these people had such a big impact on my recovery, and are the reason why I am doing so well now.
It is one of the most important lessons I learnt in the last year: it is the people that make your life special.