When Alan Leonard lost his leg to osteosarcoma at the tender age of 20, he never imagined that he would one day be using it to help boost a child up a tree at a the 2010 Rally to Restore Sanity. But that is exactly what happened one October afternoon. After watching the young girl make several failed attempts to climb the tree to get above the crowd, Alan realized that his prosthesis gave him a unique advantage in that if he held the prosthesis up above his head he then had an extra foot and half of height that he could temporarily spare to give her a boost. “Amputees are often faced with what they cannot do,” says Alan. Yet that day he could do something no one else could.
Being a Good Samaritan isn’t the only thing that Alan (now 27 and working as a researcher for a Washington, DC based Think Tank) has been able to do with his prosthesis. He has run in several races including the Marine Corp Marathon. He admits that it wasn’t always this easy. “At first, it took some getting used to the hardware. New amputees struggle figuring out what their new normal is. Initially, I had a lot of pain and I ended up causing stress fractures to my other leg in trying to compensate for the discomfort of my prosthesis.”
However, with the support of the District Amputee Care Center, Alan has been able to get prostheses that work for him and his lifestyle. David Fenton has been “very responsive and enthusiastic about the things I’m trying to do, including running. He’s been accommodating and flexible regarding my schedule. He’s also been patient with adjustments and fixes , which is good because my approach is to wear these things out.”
To new amputees, Alan recommends that they ask a lot of questions, “there’s no such thing as a dumb question.” He also recommends that you talk to an amputee about what to expect. “Look at it not as a limitation, but an opportunity,” says Alan. “No one ever remembers learning how to walk as a kid. But I’ve experienced that again as an adult and as a result I feel I am a more complete person because I am more aware of how my body works.” Most importantly Alan says to people considering getting a prosthesis, “it gets better over time and try to have a sense of humor about it.” Alan applies this sense of humor when he says that “[my prosthetic leg] is a part of me, but at the end of the day, it’s just a big piece of metal.” Yet, we know it a big piece of metal that Alan is using to do remarkable things and to continue on a journey of being a truly remarkable person.