Rick Lewis used to believe transfemoral amputees were at a disadvantage when it comes to rock climbing. Especially at last year’s O&P Extremity Games by College Park, held in Orlando, Fla., where more than 50 competitors raced up a see-through 24-foot wall. In a sport that largely depends on leg strength, transfemoral amputees would seemingly be at a disadvantage compared to transtibial amputees. So when Lewis found out the rock climbing competition would not be split up into amputation-specific categories, he was admittedly a little nervous.
“We were kind of concerned at first that they had not broken it up into above-knee amputees versus below-knee amputees. Because below-knee amputees, that is basically a toenail clipping as far as above-knee amputees are concerned. It is like scuffing your toe – no big deal,” Lewis said jokingly. “What caught me off guard was what ended up happening. I think two of the top three finishers were above- knee amputees solely because we are stronger, tougher, and for the most part, better looking.”
So, after playfully antagonizing the competition for this year’s upcoming Extremity Games, you would think Lewis, who works as a prosthetist and orthotist assistant in Waterford, Mich., would be climbing everyday, putting in the time to back up his bold talk. Instead, he stays in shape playing sled hockey two or three times a week and wrestling with his family’s dog, a Boxer named Lucy.
An event like no other
For Lewis, who lost his left leg above the knee due to complications with knee replacement surgery following chemotherapy treatment for osteogenic sarcoma when he was 19 years old, competing at the Extremity Games is more about the camaraderie and atmosphere than it is about the medal haul. Add in the ongoing inspiration and motivation it provides to those who compete, and it is an event like no other according to Lewis.
“It really isn’t about the wall. It is just athletes pushing each other to see where they stack up against other athletes. It is impressive to be a part of or to just sit back and watch,” Lewis told O&P Business News.
Lewis’ main goal for this year’s games is to bring along more people with him than last year. The inspired feeling he left with last year has only strengthened his desire to expose more amputees to the thrill of competition.
“There was a group [last year] that had around 10 participants that they brought out there and now we want to at least double what they brought out. If we could bring 30 people, if we could swing it, we would do that,” Lewis said. “It is just a great opportunity, even for people who would not be able to climb the wall, or do the BMX stuff, or the skateboarding. Just to get some of these people who are in this mode where they think, ‘I am an amputee now and my life is so capped,’ to give them the chance to go down there and see it all, would be like a shade opening up in front of them.”
Breaking down barriers
The “we” that Lewis talks about is the foundation that he and friend Damian Buchman started together last year called the Super Gimp Foundation. Back in 2000, Lewis, living with Buchman in Milwaukee at the time, half jokingly drew a handicapped logo in place of the “S” that would normally be seen on Superman’s chest. When Buchman saw it, he immediately knew they were on to something. The group, according to Lewis, is all about breaking down barriers and putting amputees in positions where they can do things that an able-bodied person might not be able to do. They have members throughout the Midwest. They had T-shirts and temporary tattoos made up for last year’s games.
“We try to create this environment where there can be a paradigm shift where people are inspired by individuals based on their accomplishments, not based on the fact that they are an amputee or paralyzed,” Lewis said.
But group or no group, Lewis thinks it would serve any amputee well to at least look into attending this year’s games. The positives abound, and for those searching for not only a challenge but also an uplifting environment, they should not hesitate to give it a go.
“The Extremity Games is presenting an opportunity like there has never been before in being that it is so cutting edge even for the youngest kids. There is something about pushing yourself to the edge – it is universal. The Extremity Games presents the opportunity for anyone that is an amputee to see exactly what their limits are – and there are no limits.”
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Andrew Kelly is the assistant editor of O&P Business News.