When he was 14 years old, Reggie Showers lost both of his legs in an electrical accident. Today, he is an accomplished athlete and in June of 2015, he walked nearly 100 miles across the African Serengeti.
Showers, the youngest of six children, described his childhood as adventurous. He grew up in a close-knit community in Philadelphia, and spent most summer days racing at a local dirt bike track.
On Memorial Day in 1978, Showers’ family was setting up for a cookout. “The food was not ready yet,” he explained, so he and his friends went to a familiar railroad yard.
Showers spotted an empty boxcar and decided to climb to the top. There were old high-tension electrical wires surrounding the car, but none of the wires seemed dangerous, he said.
“Then I got too close and was electrocuted with 13,000 volts. As the electricity burned through my body, it killed all of the flesh on my legs.”
Showers was rushed to Chester Crozer Hospital in Chester, Pa., but with severe third-degree burns covering more than 35% of his body, doctors needed to amputate his legs in order to save his life.
Determined to walk
Following weeks of intensive care, Showers was transferred to Philadelphia’s Magee Rehab Center, where he began physical therapy.
“I spent the month of July learning how to walk on these new things called prosthetic legs,” he said. “Back then, technology was archaic compared to the [advanced prosthetic] feet I wear now.”
His original prostheses were held on with a garter belt that he wore around his waist.
“The legs were heavy. The feet were made out of rubber and wood,” he said. “They were not dynamic, they were not energy returning, there was no shock absorption – there was none of that.”
His condition impacted his confidence. “As a 14-year-old, it was hard. I fell into depression, but I never told anybody,” he said. “I had support from my family and friends, but they could not speak ‘amputee.’ I was the only [one] in my school, my church [and] my neighborhood. So, it was a lonely time.”
Still, determined to regain his vigor, Showers continued to walk.
“That is all I would do — walk, walk, walk to get better. I did everything to walk as normally as possible, exercising parts of my body that a typical amputee may not. The buildings were not compliant. I had to climb stairs [and] trip over sidewalks, but all that hard work helped me develop a skillset.”
By the start of the fall, Showers rejoined school with his ninth grade class.
Showers said he never let his mobility get in the way of his dreams. In June 2015, he competed on the National Geographic Channel’s survival series, Mygrations.
“I was surfing the web one day, and I saw an advertisement for an adventure television show. It said, ‘Do you have what it takes to survive in the African Serengeti?’ And right then, I [said], ‘Yes.’”
Soon after he applied, Showers was contacted by the United Kingdom-based production team. Following several interviews, he was chosen out of more than 7,500 applicants, and was the show’s only amputee.
The series follows a group of 20 American men and women as they attempt to follow the 200-mile trail of the African wildebeest, stretching from the southern Serengeti to the northern Mara River.
“We had little food, little water, no weapons, no compass, no shelter,” Showers said, “and everything that we had, our provisions, would have to be carried on our backs.”
The 6-week voyage, set out on foot, took the team across a savannah, where participants faced deep ravines, scorching earth, lethal predators and each other. Though Showers did not complete the entire 200-mile trek, five contestants tapped out prior to him. The series finale aired in June.
While the experience gave Showers an opportunity to demostrate the power of an amputee, he said it also gave him an opportunity to showcase the power of the human spirit.
“Human beings are capable of amazing things, but we do not know how strong we are until being strong is the only option that we have,” he said. “This gave me an opportunity to show that.
“The biggest takeaway, however, was being able to experience indigenous people. Here we come with all of our conveniences, and our advancements, and our [stubbornness] and they have nothing. They live in grass huts and off the land. We try to fix their lives, but they do not need fixing.”
He added, “They do not take more than they need, they share everything, they work together and they are happy. They enjoy the little things in life and take what opportunities come their way.”
Learning and teaching
Showers seems to have manifested the same ideals. He has taken time to enjoy the little things, but has also taken a great deal of opportunities.
Aside from Mygrations, he is a multichampionship-winning pro-stock motorcycle racer, snowboarder and certified snowboarding instructor, director of patient relations at College Park, blogger and dad.
He continues to give back. Showers teaches a youth class in remote piloted vehicles, is a member of Disabled Sport USA and mentors children as a part of the Orthotic and Prosthetic Activities Foundation (OPAF).
“Reggie has been [with] OPAF for the last 2.5 years. He attends many of [our] events as a board member and a participant,” Robin Burton, OPAF executive director, told O&P News. “Most people have never met a bilateral amputee, much less [one] who conducts himself with such grace. Reggie is a born competitor [and] natural athlete. Whether rock climbing, playing tennis, kayaking or dancing, he is comfortable in his own body and [encourages] the best out of those around him.”
Showers travels the country as a motivational speaker, sharing his message in schools and hospitals.
“Not only for the younger generation, but for people in general who are faced with challenges,” he said. “People learn through example, and I am trying to be good example. When they look at me and see me doing these extreme things, it makes them feel inspired to take on their life challenges, too.”
Upon returning from Mygrations, Showers set up a walking challenge in his community. Themed after the series, participants have 35 days to walk 200 miles. The initiative is meant to keep people active, while helping them find their personal power, he said.
Showers is also taking on a new challenge this fall. As a part of the Chicago Marathon, he will compete to gain a pre-qualifying time for the 2017 Boston Marathon. Through his sponsor, software company PTC, attendees will be able to send him messages and track his progress, heart rate and speed through a mobile application.
Showers said he is not sure what his future holds, but he knows his purpose.
“I am challenged to raise the bar, to go to new levels,” he said. “I am challenged to rock climb, to play tennis, to play basketball, to run.
“They say the two greatest days in life are the day that you are born and the day that you find out why. I have had those days, and I now know why: to challenge myself and challenge others to do the same.”
Though he has come a long way, Showers said he has a long path to go. Based on his achievements so far, it appears he is one step ahead. – by Shawn M. Carter
- National Geographic Channel. Can Mankind Survive Nature’s Deadliest Migration? [Press Release]. 2016.
Disclosure: Showers reports no relevant financial disclosures.