Meet Susan Wang
When I signed up for a 500-mile cycling event, I knew it would put me to the test. As a fitness trainer and martial artist, I hungered for that type of physical challenge. However, I was not an endurance cyclist so this ride was bound to be incredibly demanding.  Little did I know it would turn into the challenge of a lifetime.
My life changed forever on Sunday, June 2, 1996. I was in full training mode for the upcoming ride by then, feeling strong and ready and eagerly awaiting the big event that was just weeks away.
Shortly after I set out on a group training ride that morning, a drunken driver in a pick-up truck sped through a red light, barreled down the wrong side of the road and plowed into me as I rode my bike. Fellow riders and nearby onlookers witnessed the truck hit me so hard that the windshield cracked as my body was taken atop the truck and thrown like a rag doll through the air, landing lifeless at the side of the road.

While I sustained head-to-toe injuries, it was my left leg that took a direct hit. My left femur was shattered and my femoral artery completely severed. I was fighting for my life!
I underwent life-saving and body-altering surgeries in the weeks and months to follow, along with blood transfusions necessitated by extreme blood loss. I was re-vascularized, resuscitated, skin-grafted, stitched, stapled and ultimately amputated below the knee. I spent a summer hooked up to beeping machines, IV lines and tubes. I rarely slept and had psychotic episodes and hallucinations related to the pain and medications. I felt trapped within a body that I no longer recognized or controlled. In my mind, I had become “damaged goods.”
Reality set in and hit hard as I would stare toward the end of my hospital bed to find only one foot protruding. There was no mistaking that my left leg stopped short of my right.  Never in my wildest dreams had I imagined that I would one day become an amputee.  

My mind was overcome with such fear, anger and uncertainty. Because of one individual’s selfish, careless drunk driving decision, I had been robbed of my life as I’d known it. I knew no other amputees at that time and I knew nothing about prosthetic limbs. I was overcome with feelings of hopelessness and depression. I had been forced into a sink or swim situation, yet I felt so useless and beaten down that getting back up didn’t seem possible. 
Early recovery was filled with overwhelming physical, mental and emotional challenges, extreme moods, self-pity, endless questions. Would I ever walk “normal” again?  Would I be able to resume the physically active lifestyle that I loved? Would I face a future of labels and judgment?   After all, I saw myself as damaged goods with a mutilated leg. 
The list of insecurities grew. I doubted my abilities. But somehow I mustered up whatever ounce of sanity I had left and from deep within discovered an inner strength. I tapped into and began to trust that deep part of myself and -- fortunate to be surrounded by a loving, supportive network of family and friends--I learned to shift my fear, anger, negativity and frustration and propel myself forward, achieving one small goal at a time. 
My mindset evolved: I had undeniably been stricken with tragedy and experienced great loss, but I did not have to let it crush me. Part of me may have died, but I was still very much alive. I still had fight, stubbornness and determination. There was bound to be good in this situation and it became my mission to rescue it – to rescue myself. 
Literally, one step at a time I began to muster the strength and courage to view obstacles as opportunities. I decided the only limitation I will have is what I place upon myself; my prosthetic leg will not define me. I learned to welcome the questions and stares of passersby as an opportunity to educate. My self-image expanded as I embraced the true meaning of self-acceptance and unconditional love.
The journey of my recovery was long, painful and immensely challenging, but ultimately life-affirming and positive in so many ways. Words will always fail to convey what I endured nearly 20 years ago. But the healing, learning and growing never stop.
What did I learn? Inevitably, when staring death in the face, new life perspectives are formed. I may have lost part of my body, but I didn’t lose one bit of who I am. I actually have gained that much more; I’m a much more developed person, with a richer life than I ever had imagined. I truly believe that there are silver linings to be found in the worst of situations.  Standing in front of a full-length mirror, sans prosthetic leg, I no longer see myself as damaged goods. I see an empowered woman.


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