Super Crip: Able to Leap Tall Buildings in a Single Bound

Super crip is a term used in the disabled community for heroic, exceptional people with disabilities in the public eye. For example, several amputees have strutted their mechanical stuff on Dancing with the Stars recently. One national media outlet described the inspirational spectacle this way: “Double-amputee Amy Purdy … hasn’t let her disability slow her down.” Because I am also an amputee, friends and acquaintances have mentioned the show, suggesting I watch it. I know they find the courage and persistence of the showcased super crips inspirational for their own lives and hope that I will, too. However, there is a hidden message in there which was actually spoken aloud to me recently: “If they can dance at a world-class level with prosthetics, why don’t you walk better?” It was a TSA agent, swabbing my artificial leg for explosives, who took the opportunity to describe an incredible dance performance to me this past month. She followed up by asking if I was a very recent amputee, and when I told her I lost my leg to cancer about 30 years ago she articulated the question others have unwittingly implied. If amputees can be runway models, Olympic athletes and dance stars, then why have I let MY disability “slow me down?”  Why do I limp, walk stiffly and occasionally fall?

Surely, most people don’t actually think about this angle when they recommend the programs they have enjoyed. I think there is a generic quality to their appreciation – if a person with an acute disability can accomplish such a feat, then other people can accomplish their own dreams through hard work and an optimistic attitude. It’s my own internal voices which compare me to the outliers, but I still don’t really enjoy the experience. It feels a little like asking an overweight person if they watch Biggest Loser.

So, I want to take this opportunity to explain what I cannot say in the moment. Every amputation is different. Every amputee is different. In fact, every disability of any kind is different. I lost my leg near the hip joint, and all the soft tissue was removed from the stump and replaced with tissue from another part of my body. That means I have little leverage to lift and move my prosthesis, and I don’t have the musculature to do it well, either. In addition, I have only recently succeeded in using a suction socket because I have so little surface area to which it can be attached. That means my prosthesis must be simple and light or it will pop right off! No heavy bionics for me, and even if I had a terrifically expensive carbon fiber athletic foot, I wouldn’t be able to manipulate it.

But I am SO grateful! My prosthetic leg is a good friend. Not as comfortable or flexible as the one God made, yet an incredible blessing which has allowed me to live a full life in so many ways. Before my prosthetist found some new material (thank you, NASA) and creatively structured my latest leg, I had to wear a belt around my waist to keep it on, and I suffered numerous abrasions and infections over the years. But I am pain-free most of the time now, and I never think (anymore) about the things I can’t do. I enjoy the ones I can.

How would I like you to respond to this post? Well, if you have a personal experience of disability or the super crip phenomenon, I’d love to hear your thoughts. My intention is not to heap guilt on anyone about things said to me in the past, but simply to raise public consciousness about the continuum of ability of which we are all a part. Share your Dancing with the Stars story with the teenager who doesn’t think they can make the soccer team or the employee who is falling short of their sales quota. But consider your audience when you think about sharing it with disabled acquaintances. If you know me well, I’d love for you to ask me what I think about the show you enjoyed. If you don’t know me well, if, for example, you work for the TSA, then maybe stick to the weather.

6 thoughts on “Super Crip: Able to Leap Tall Buildings in a Single Bound

  1. I have learned that people mean well, however, if I could write a book, I would tell people to say nothing in your case. Nothing has slowed you down in God’s eyes. You are doing what He called you to and that is all that matters. When i was going through the pain of infertility, I heard things like, “Have you ever thought about adoption?” Really? Or, “You should be thankful you already have a child.” Unless you have experienced it, you have no clue. In my case, the best things to say would have been, “I will pray for you.” God allows pain for many reasons – but those reasons are for us. I love you. Louise. You have been a light and wonderful example to us all.

  2. You did a great job of raising awareness! Most people would not say something to intentionally discourage an amputee. It is just ignorance. Thanks for enlightening us!
    You move at God’s pace, and it’s beautiful!

  3. This is the best response to that type of question that I’ve ever read, Louise. I remember about 15 years ago there was a Super Bowl ad featuring Christopher Reeves and, through the magic of television, they showed him standing up out of his wheelchair and walking. I happened to be at the Miami Project the very next day and was interested in the responses of the doctors and therapists. Their concern was that it portrayed a false sense of reality and was setting up most spinal cord injured folks for failure. I also saw another situation where in a HIV infected person was interviewed and the interviewer said that if Magic Johnson can conquer it, so can you. The interviewee took exception and tried to briefly explain the differences in both the disease and the resources available to Magic Johnson that weren’t available to other infected people. These are all well-meaning people that just need a little education.

  4. What a wonderful explanation. This is why people should refrain from saying anything until they have walked in your shoes. Thank you.

  5. Some of us wish there were a prosthetic, with all its troubles, but the surgeons in charge didn’t it was a possibility. 26 years later with the same lump on my extremity some call an arm starting to pain me as much as the semi-useful thing on my leg does, I can only ask “Why?”. I have so much to complain about – but God alone knows. I wish for some answers, but then I remember He’s cured me of diabetes, of MRSA, and of half my wrist nodes- of what else? He knows, I don’t.

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