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I just wanted to walk again — all this other stuff is a bonus

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For some people running might be considered boring or a chore, but for amputee Ryan Gibbons it's one of the most freeing things in the world.

The 28-year-old said that “for the longest time” he didn't go running for fear he would hurt himself. But he found the process exhilarating once he did it.

“The first time I ran I thought ‘Why have I been waiting so long?',” he said.

Since having his leg amputated in 2010, Mr Gibbons has learned that he can't be afraid of facing new challenges, no matter what the outcome.

He said: “I've learned to put myself out there and the importance of being accepting of myself, as far as the leg is concerned.

“People have things to say about what you can do. I've heard people say ‘If you can do it, then I must be able to do it'. And for a while I saw as a backhanded compliment, but now I see that it's actually a sign of admiration.”

Mr Gibbons has pushed himself to take part in various road races like the Lindos to Lindos race and Validus Re's Running of the Bulls 5K.

But he said it was actually in a CrossFit class when he started to realise what his body was capable of.

“They put us into pairs and made us do a 250 metre run. At first I didn't think I could do it, but this guy came up to me and said ‘You are running really fast'.

“I didn't think I was, but then I thought ‘If this CrossFit guy thinks I'm doing okay then I must be'.”

Mr Gibbons was involved in a serious cycle accident in 2008, which broke his leg in nine places between the knee and ankle.

Life drastically changed for him after that. His ankle started showing signs of an MRSA bone infection and he was told by doctors he would never be able to walk again, without help from crutches or a cane.

Mr Gibbons, 28, made the brave decision to amputate his leg in 2010.

“That's how I met Robert (Bob) Emerson from A Step Ahead Prosthetics,” he said. “I needed to speak with someone about my options and Bob showed me the capabilities of carbon prosthetics.”

He had the amputation done in two stages. The first operation at the ankle was on February 27th, then the second happened a week later 15 centimetres below the knee.

“I was engaged at that point and that relationship deteriorated,” Mr Gibbons said. “And I was living with my grandparents so that I would have someone with me in my recovery, but it was a hard time.”

Mr Gibbons waited for two months before he could get fitted for his prosthetic leg in Massachusetts. Following that he needed months of physiotherapy at Boston Children's Hospital.

“It wasn't easy,” he recalled. “The area was sore in a completely different spot each day and the specialists at the hospital helped me through it.

“They put me on a balance board and they would throw medical balls at me to see if I could hold steady. Then I had to practice more when I went home for the day.” He said there were many emotional highs and lows that came along with losing a limb.

Shortly after getting fitted with his new leg, he took a trip to a mall in Massachusetts and had to deal with other people's reactions to him.

“Just seeing children looking at me and saying ‘Mommy, mommy look at that man' was hard.

“You do hear things like ‘look at his leg' and getting comfortable with that is the biggest thing. So while I could wear long pants and cover my prosthetic limb up, a lot of times I will wear shorts because I'm not ashamed of it.”

Mr Gibbons said he was open with sharing about his experience in order to raise awareness and often talks with customers are his workplace, Barracuda Grill.

Some positive things have also come from the experience, he said.

“I'm probably more active now than before I lost my limb. I can already tell you I'm more productive at work. I have already been awarded Best Bartender for 2012 and 2014; and got the VIP Excellence Award for 2013, so that's really huge.”

Mr Gibbons recently launched the ‘BK prosthetic fund' to raise money to help him pay off loans for his leg and to buy a new foot.

He hopes additional funds can go towards helping other amputees on the Island.

“A lot of people say what I'm doing is inspirational and for me it's funny because I just wanted to walk again and all this other stuff was just a bonus,” Mr Gibbons said. “For me this whole experience has been very cathartic.

“I was on a couch for 26 months and lost the girl I thought was the one and didn't think I would be able to walk again. Now this fitness stuff is proving how far I can go.

“Just to be able to go out running, I did a 10K [earlier this week] at the beach, it was very freeing and I started to feel those fears melt away.”

To support Mr Gibbons' fundraising campaign, visit www.gofundme.com/save-ryan or www.rcgbda.com.

Ryan Gibbons lost his leg in an accident a few years back, but is now raising money for a new prosthetic leg. (Photo by Akil Simmons)
Ryan Gibbons lost the lower part of his right leg following an accident in 2008, but he is now raising money for a new prosthetic foot and to pay off a loan for his artificial leg. He says the response has been heartwarming. (Photo by Akil Simmons)

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Published May 01, 2014 at 9:00 am (Updated May 01, 2014 at 9:36 am)

I just wanted to walk again — all this other stuff is a bonus

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