A patient's persistence: One mile at a time

Julie poses with Rebecca back on her bike.

Being a physical therapist at Magee has taught me to value health and fitness as great gifts. Each day, I am reminded how life can change in a single moment, as well as the persistence and the courage that recovery requires.

I often contemplate what makes individuals stick with an exercise routine, both before and after a catastrophic injury, and how therapists can motivate people to make life changes to take care of themselves.

One of my greatest inspirations is one of Magee’s Health and Wellness Center clients and former patients, Rebecca Levenberg. A little over two years ago, Rebecca was riding her bike to work when she was struck by a garbage truck. She survived the accident, but not without harm—she lost her left leg above the knee.

Though Rebecca moves with such grace that you may not even notice her prosthetic leg, don’t let it fool you—her journey has not been an easy one. It took months of physical therapy for her to gain the strength and endurance she needs to do everyday tasks. It is estimated that it takes someone with an above-knee amputation at least 45-70% more energy to walk than it does someone with two intact legs.

Think about that for a minute. Sunk in? Good.

Despite this, she is more active than most people with both legs.  Not only is she back on her bike and rollerblades, but she is also trying new athletic pursuits, including rock climbing and yoga. She maintains a very consistent commitment to exercise, attending Magee’s Wellness Center two to three times a week for a cardiovascular and strengthening routine.

Shortly after the accident, her aunt and uncle gave her a necklace with a quote by Confucius: “The journey of 1,000 miles begins with one step.” And while she had heard this quote hundreds of times before, it now had a new meaning. Then and there she set a goal to mark her recovery journey: to walk 1,000 miles in her prosthesis. To date, she has completed 950 miles.

So with all the excuses she could have, what’s Rebecca’s advice for staying on track?

  • “Gather support from an exercise community of people with common goals. Keep strong connections with people. Understand that each person is trying to achieve their greatest potential. The more you have a good team behind you, the more you can push yourself to achieve.”
  • “Appreciate the big picture. When things are going well, I am more thankful than I was before.  Surviving injury puts things in perspective as to how bad things could be.”
  • “Put health and wellness first. Before my accident, it was easy to let other things get in the way of working out. Now I know that if I do not exercise on a regular basis, it will be that much harder to get back on the treadmill the next time.”

Before we ended our chat, she had one last gem of wisdom.

“Having come this far, I'm convinced the only way to get good at something is to practice,” she said. “There was a time when the longest distance I could walk was between two dining room chairs. There was a time when bike riding and skating seemed like pipe dreams. But step by step, I’ve walked miles.”

One mile at a time on this very difficult journey, Rebecca has become a person that inspires others, in spite of all obstacles in her path.

You can follow her journey on her blog: www.my-1000-miles.blogspot.com.

-Julie Coté, PT, MPT, OCS, COMT

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