July 14, 2004
Putting mettle to the pedal: European bike tour proves athleticism of amputees
By Susan Christensen
Health and Research News Service
JACKSON, Miss.—After bicycling 1,370 miles across Europe this spring, Brad Kennedy declared his artificial left leg no worse for the wear.
The Methodist Rehabilitation Center prosthetist wishes he could say the same for his God-given body parts. Turns out that pedaling from Glasgow, Scotland to Venice, Italy can leave a guy with a continental pain in his southern hemisphere.
“I went through quite a few Advils,” he says. But now that his muscles are less sore and he has started to regain the 25 pounds he lost, Kennedy calls Discovery Tour ’04 “a wonderful experience.”
The nine-country, month-long bicycle trek was the brainchild of international prosthetics manufacturer Otto Bock Healthcare. The company asked Kennedy and two other amputees to make the journey as a way of showcasing how today’s technology can expand the horizons for people who use prostheses.
While the team members were the only ones to pedal the complete distance, they got plenty of company from other bikers—able-bodied and otherwise—along the way. “We met quite a few amputees and I do think we helped to motivate them,” Kennedy said. “And I think we motivated just as many able-bodied riders. We really pushed them.”
Pushing himself has been a way of life for Kennedy ever since a car accident took half his left leg at age 17. So he jumped at the chance to put Otto Bock’s computerized C-Leg and LuXon Max foot through the wringer.
“I hate to pass up a good challenge,” he said. “It means a lot to me to be able to demonstrate that you can still be an athlete after an amputation.”
Kennedy was among the first people in the United States to use Otto Bock’s revolutionary C-Leg after its 1999 United States debut. He now travels the country training other practitioners on how to fit the computerized leg, and his experience told him the prosthesis would be no problem on the tour.
He wasn’t nearly as confident about his flesh-and-blood components. As an above-the-knee amputee, Kennedy knew 95 percent of his pedaling power would depend on his sound leg. And his pre-trip training amounted to only four months.
“I was really questioning my decision the third day,” he said. “There was a lot of soreness and fatigue setting in and it was cold and I had a 1,600-foot climb to do in a short distance. But I had a lot of support and I got in a little better shape and it got easier and easier.”
The team’s daily mileage ranged from 50 to 110 miles. And by the end of the trip, Kennedy was in good enough shape to clock four 100-mile days—three of those in a row.
Along the way, Kennedy and his two biking companions—Mitch Reinitz of Seattle, Wash. and Dan Sherer of Wilmington, N.C.—had a variety of adventures.
They dodged hailstorms, lightning bolts and foreign drivers; fielded questions from the international media and local townsfolk; got lost countless times in the European countryside and experimented with international cuisine (i.e. blood pudding and liver soup.)
Through it all, they stayed focused on the tour objective. “My goal was to touch people’s lives and encourage them,” Kennedy said.
But he says he was the one who came away inspired—especially after a pre-European trek to Washington, D.C., where the team spent time with U.S. soldiers who had lost limbs in the war in Iraq.
“We went to lift their spirits and make them feel better and they made me feel better,” said Kennedy, whose own dream of being in the military was dashed by his amputation. “Their orders were to get well and that is what they were doing. Before we left, we asked if they would autograph our shirts. Now that’s my prize possession.”
Kennedy also came home with plenty of European souvenirs, including more than 500 photographs picturing beautiful sights he hopes to some day share in person with his wife Connie, also a Methodist employee.
But for now he’s happy to be home spending time with family and friends and sharing the insights he gained on his trip with his Methodist patients. “I really looked forward to getting back to work,” he said. “The trip reinforced my desire to make sure we’re providing the best care we can for our patients and that they get the detailed attention they deserve.”
For more information about Methodist Orthotics and Prosthetics or the C-Leg, go to methodistonline.org or call 601-936-8899.
Methodist Orthotics and Prosthetics was one of the first sites in the nation to fit amputees with the Otto Bock C-Leg—the world’s first completely microprocessor-controlled artificial leg. The division is recognized by the American Board of Certification as a center of excellence.
Brad Kennedy in Paisley, Scotland.
Brad Kennedy and crew leaving Austria.