After a motorcycle accident claimed her right leg, Danielle Burt had to find a way to get back in the game, and she did so with the help of the Challenged Athletes Foundation.
Burt was riding her motorcycle on a highway in southern California on July 11, 2004 when she entered a blind turn too fast. She lost control of the motorcycle and slammed into a guardrail before tumbling 65 feet down the side of a mountain. The accident resulted in a complex fracture of Burt’s right tibia and fibula and fractures of her C6 spine, left humerus and all of her ribs, in addition to collapsed lungs, a ruptured spleen and the development of acute respiratory distress syndrome.
“Since I was in such critical condition, I was placed in a drug-induced coma for 45 days,” Burt told O&P Business News. “The doctors were trying to repair my leg during this time, but I ended up getting gangrene in my right knee. While I was in my coma, my leg was amputated above the knee.”
After the amputation, Burt recovered and within 2 weeks she was released from the hospital.
Before her accident, Burt was an active athlete who had skateboarded and body boarded her entire life. After her amputation, Burt hoped that she could return to athletics, but she was discouraged.
“I was told by multiple medical professionals that I wouldn’t be able to participate in these sports,” Burt said. “That was hard to hear at first, but it just made me push myself even harder.”
Then Burt was introduced to the Challenged Athletes Foundation. While she was in rehab, a representative from CAF visited her to tell her about the opportunities available for challenged athletes.
“He showed me pictures of adaptive athletes killing it in sports like triathlons and the Paralympics,” Burt said. “That gave me so much hope because I didn’t know any amputees, let alone athletic ones.”
When she was able, Burt attended Catch a Rising Star, an adaptive clinic held by CAF that provides rehabilitative support and mentoring to challenged athletes who wish to improve their abilities.
Within a year of her accident, Burt starting playing sports again and has since added several more to her repertoire.
“CAF inspired me when I was at my lowest, darkest moment. They saw something in me and helped bring it out,” Burt said. “They support me in every goal that I have made for myself no matter how unrealistic others thought it to be. Without them, it would have been an incredibly harder road to travel.”
Burt is now an accomplished snowboarder, rock climber and swimmer and is recognized as the only known transfemoral female skateboarder. She received a grant from CAF to travel the United States on a skateboard tour.
Burt is also recognized as a talented surfer. In 2010, she participated in the Roxy Jam Women’s Longboard Championship Expression Session in Biarritz, France, which is a competition that gathers elite female surfers from around the world.
“It’s the first time I did anything like that. I had a lot of fun,” Burt said. “Right now my number one passion and focus is surfing.”
To surf, as well as rock climb, Burt uses a prosthesis that she constructed from old parts that she had. She uses a basic hinge knee that is locked in the athletic stance, and the prosthesis is 10 cm shorter than her normal walking leg, which enables her to crouch down on the board.
“I’m on a budget and I know what I need to get the job done,” Burt wrote in her blog “By and Large.” “That’s the ability to trust my prosthetic, which is crucial when you’re out there in the water. It’s hard enough to surf with one real leg. I don’t want to worry about it falling off or the knee unexpectedly breaking on me.”
Most recently, Burt was awarded a grant for a running prosthesis from CAF.
“This prosthesis will drastically improve not just my athletic career, but my life in general by increasing my endurance and confidence in running,” Burt said. “Endurance is extremely important as an above-knee amputee since you exert more energy than someone who is able-bodied.”
In addition to cross-training, Burt plans on running 5K races with her new prosthesis with the hope of eventually running a marathon.
“In the beginning, everyone would tell me it would get better, and I got so sick of hearing that, because I was angry, depressed and devastated by everything that had happened,” Burt said. “But it’s true. It does get better. You have to push hard through all those negative feelings and pain. I have my good days and bad days, but I definitely appreciate those good days way more than I did before my accident.”
Burt also said that she used to struggle with the mental aspect of competing in sports, but her amputation has helped her to focus more on her physical abilities.
“The physical aspect is one issue but mental is a whole other ballgame. My biggest issue has always been when other people watch me. It makes me nervous and unfocused,” Burt said. “Now that I have one leg, I draw a lot more attention so I’ve learned to tune it out. The biggest thing is to stay positive or even just neutral. Know your goal and get it done. Don’t let anything stand in the way of your dreams and being happy.”
Inspired by her own physical therapist, Burt is now going to college to become a therapist.
“The physical therapists that worked with me during my recovery gave me hope and the tools that I needed to regain my strength,” Burt said. “After losing so much, I can’t explain how amazing that was. With the experience of my accident and my athletic accomplishments, I feel that I have something to offer this profession and its clients. Giving others hope is what it’s all about.” — by Megan Gilbride