Since I began exercising at the YMCA nearly a year ago I have gathered many stories and interesting moments along the way there. When you have one leg and are new to a place you quickly become a superstar and everyone learns your name…or at least that you are the “girl with one leg”. It has been very interesting and I’m learning to take it all with a grain of salt because soon the novelty of my awesomeness will wear off and I’ll be back to depending on comments from you, dear readers, for encouragement!
This collection is for humor and irony only. Please do not feel sorry for me or apologize for fellow two-leggers. Just read it, chuckle with me, and walk away with a smile today!
There was a woman that approached me one day and stopped me from walking on the treadmill. You could see that I had only one leg, she said, but she still wanted to introduce herself to me. She then asked if I was a native citizen. Mmmm…is there another planet that contains civilizations of deformed people? Perhaps Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, and Amputees are from Planet X? While I was trying to tie all of this together in my mind she hurriedly explained that I simply look very exotic and she thought perhaps I was Egyptian, Muslim, or Indian. This only caused further awkwardness in my face as my mind attempted to understand how it was that this lady considered “Muslim” a race of people rather than a religion. Exotic looking…is that a compliment or a freak show? I never did figure this one out and whenever I see this (confused) citizen I find myself becoming engrossed in my workout in a whole new way!
The next week I noticed there was a man there that would always go out of his way to talk to me. He was very kind and I noticed he would begin to use exercise machines near me each day so we could chat. It was great to chat a bit about the day, about God, and then move on to focus on our workouts. I thought I had a real buddy there. Within a week I started to wonder if this new pal of mine actually knew I had one leg or not. It reminded me of back when I used to date as a teenager (and used a prosthesis full time) because there was constantly this cloud overhead about when to have “the talk”. One would think that “the talk” would and should involve things like sexually transmitted diseases, past marriages, serial murdering, etc. But amputation also seems to fall into this category for most one-legged people trying to date. (I actually just read a “Dear Abby” column by an amputee a few weeks ago in the Lancaster Newspaper asking when the right time was to tell a date about the fake!)
Of course, I found the movie Deuce Bigalow quite horrifying as a teenager because the woman never told her boyfriend she was an amputee until quite an awkward bedroom scene where the leg fell off into his hands. The horrors! (I think I was the only one in the movie theater NOT laughing that day as I realized the truth behind it.) I started to realize that the same “full disclosure” was interestingly flowing now into formed friendships as well. Mmmm…when is the right time to tell a new workout pal that I am an amputee, I wondered. The next day it was taken care of for me. My pal was waiting for me at the end of the hallway and I was running behind. I came out of the pool area into the hall to give a heads up looking a bit like a drowned and very wet rat. Having just left the pool, of course, I had my crutches and no leg on. I smiled and before I could get a word out he was gone! Gone! He snatched his gym bag shot out the door. The EXIT door.He left the YMCA right there in front of me. I have seen this “pal” since but he will not make eye contact or even talk to me. While this is overtly rude of him and I should probably hold him accountable for this extremely ignorant behavior, I think I will much rather to wait until we pass in the hallway and then jump at him and say “Boo!!!”
I asked and the gym decided to give me a little room for privacy and changing. A room that I could leave my prosthesis in and have privacy to change without the outright stares of others. After countless stares and questions from women and children in the locker room I was quite relieved for this small mercy. They hung a key in the office and let me know it would work on any of the four private family changing rooms. No, not the case. The key apparently only worked on ONE of the four doors mentioned. But not knowing that I changed by hap chance in a different room one day. I had gotten dressed at home and put my leg on, went to the gym, took my leg off, put my bathing suit on, came out of the room, and the door would not lock. Well I couldn’t very well leave my leg and clothes in the room for anyone to walk in on while I swam! (I could envision kids playing with my leg or adults screaming with shock when entering!)
I went to the office and found a young man on duty. Geez, this gets better and better, I thought, No women on duty. Asking this fellow to come and check the door for me was bad enough, but when he also couldn’t get the door to lock I knew I was doomed. He told me to change rooms. There is no way I’m going to undress again, put my leg on, move my stuff ten whole feet, take my leg off, and redress into my bathing suit AGAIN then do it one more time when I get out of the pool, I fumed. All of which made me blurt out to the poor twenty-something guy “Hey, you have to carry my stuff…and my leg to the other room.” The poor guy went white. He was already white but when it dawned on him what I was asking the blood drained out of his face. He was standing there looking at a replica of a real leg, with pants and shoes still attached, and now a strange lady was demanding he touch it? She wanted him to move her body parts? Poor guy, I felt bad for him and was beet red myself, but I knew this was the only option and he couldn’t say no. He approached my leg gently and asked, “ok, so how do I do this?” to which I snapped, “You just pick it up, man, c’mon it’s not that hard and it will give you a great dinner time story for later…please!” He graciously, albeit so awkwardly, did end up moving my leg for me and there were many awkward weeks of downcast-eyed “hellos” after this until my husband went with me to the gym one day and personally thanked him. Now all is good. I guess the bonding of manhood with my husband over a strange leg somehow helped this kid realize that if my husband can do it every day that he could do it just once.
I would like to tell you that was the only time that ever happened but it did happen again. The next time my little office buddy was not around and I ended up having one of the lifeguards help me, a guy in his forties. He was a little more mature about it and was eager to help a beautiful damsel in distress which helped me save a little face. Most women seek help with doors or changing tires, I need my leg handled. Eh, to each her own, right?
Having strange men carry my leg around did lead me to the more rational conclusion that I should probably change back to the general locker room again. In my mind I figured that if I kept running into these locked room problems sooner or later the guys would wonder if I had ulterior motives to having my leg handled. I most certainly did not, but people are strange when it comes to this stuff! (Even in the restrooms if a woman is heading to my stall and sees I just came out and have one leg she will often change stalls or wait for a different one to become available. That makes no sense, to be afraid of a toilet used by a one-legged person, but whatever.) So I shifted back to the Ladies’ Locker room and decided to suck it up as much as possible.
One of my favorite stories after making the switch was of a little girl. See, when I take my leg off it is too big to fit in one of the lockers so I have to set it in a corner next to where I place my belongings while I swim. I leave the pants and shoe on (as mentioned). One afternoon as I came back from my swim I walked in behind a young girl, maybe three years old. She came around the corner and looked at my leg and screamed. She doubled over at the waist and groaned, “NO, NO, NO, NOT AGAIN, NOT ANOTHER ONE!!” Her earnestness was so sincere and her (more than slightly) embarrassed mother explained that her daughter assumed there must be multiple people randomly leaving their body parts around, she didn’t understand it was not real, and seriously thought that people were losing their legs. I absolutely loved this young girl’s perspective and wish that I could trade all of the rude ladies’ comments for the purity in heart of this darling who cried out in distress and pain for anthers loss!
There have also been a few times on the treadmill that I have been walking happily along and then realized that my pants are around my knees! Having my entire waist and thigh wrapped in the plastic of the leg I don’t always feel when my pants are no longer in the position that they should be. I’m constantly making sure I’m not walking around like a side-winder. The embarrassment is so deep and the flush that it brings to my neck and face is one that rivals that of an oompa loompa (or perhaps Donald Trump in the very least)! It happened again when I was out in my front yard raking the lawn and a few people drove by the house beeping at me. I was feeling so happy and waving as I contemplated who they may be and why so many seemed to know me that day. Of course a few moments later I looked down and realized that with my pants around my knees they may not (hopefully did not) know me at all! If you ever see me with my pants down please be confident that I am not flirting with you!
A year later: Now, in to going to the YMCA, I’m no longer really a novelty. It has been quite a relief though I am forced to look elsewhere for wonderful stories! There are still some rude people and I get a lot of questions from people like “where is your leg, why aren’t you wearing it, can I watch you get dressed and put it on?” One day though, just once, I think I will approach one of the two legged people and ask if I can watch them get dressed with two legs and let the chips fall where they may!