Making a difference
Today I walked on my legs for 30 minutes in the most normal unrestricted gait for the first time in 17 years of paralysis! No, I didn’t even use my leg braces. Imagine being an astronaut suspended in a pressure-regulated device that defies gravity. Today was my third day on the Aspen Club & Spa’s newest toy, the Alter-G, an anti-gravity treadmill.
With the help of my trainer, Mark Alderdice, and my friend, Zander, I threaded my legs into a pair of customized neoprene compression shorts and wormed my way into the machine. Mark zipped the skirt-like extension at my waist to the ballooned frame, and I wiggled my legs into position.
“OK, Amanda, put all your weight on the treadmill and keep as still as possible.”
Mark touched the computer screen while it calibrated my body weight. From a crouched position I rose to standing as the bubble inflated. Digital numbers clicked by 20, 30, 40, 50, 60… Within seconds I was almost weightless and completely vertical standing tall on my own two legs!
“Are you ready for the treadmill, Amanda?” asked Mark.
“Yes, go for it. I’m ready. I won’t know ’til I try. Now let me fly!”
“We’ll start really slowly. We can increase the speed in 1 percent increments.”
Before I knew it I was walking! I would never have imagined it possible — especially two years ago, prior to my first embryonic stem cell injection. I couldn’t move anything below my hips for 151⁄2 years. My body is still awakening. Words can’t describe my sensation of standing tall in my 5-foot-7 frame on my own two legs while walking in a true heel-toe-bend-knee-swing-forward motion. As I marched onward, consciously focusing on planting one foot in front of the other, I stretched my memory back to when I was a teenager, recalling the days when my legs ached after ballet or running hard. Today my legs ached. I have longed to feel my legs ache since that fateful ski accident that rendered me a paraplegic 17 years ago.
While the idea of unweighting isn’t new, the Alter-G uses a pressurized bubble that provides a counterforce to a person’s bodyweight, reducing the effective weight on the treadmill surface. In essence, the machine gave me unrestricted mobility to maintain my body position and a somewhat normal gait.
Mark and Zander were amazed at my newfound ability to move my trace muscles in this weightless device. Through the gift of the Aspen Club & Spa I will have the opportunity to use the Alter-G twice a week. Thank you, Michael Fox and Mark (and Zander, too). I am grateful beyond words. Today, you brought me to tears once again — sobering tears that remind me that I can be beautiful in my tallness, and that with a little determination and help from my friends I can achieve the impossible.