For the past couple years, WillowWood has had the pleasure of working with Stefanie Reid, an experienced Paralympic athlete. Stefanie competed at the Beijing, China, 2009 Paralympics in the long jump and the 200m, in which she won bronze. Stefanie’s schedule of college, training, media interviews, transcontinental travel, and some occasional gardening, keeps her quite busy.
Q: You’ll be competing in the long jump and the 200 m at London’s Paralympics. Aside from medaling, what are your personal goals for the Paralympics?
I will be competing in the 100m, 200m, and long jump in London. Apart from the obvious, my personal goal for the Paralympics is to demonstrate courage and integrity every time I compete. To compete at your best in an intense, high pressure situation, you have to be fearless. I want to walk off that track knowing that I gave every last ounce of mental and physical ability.
Q: As part of Great Britain’s Paralympic team how exciting is it to compete for the “home team” in London?
It is an incredible opportunity to change the face of disability sports in Great Britain. The interest and response from the public has been incredible, and I know it will result in an amazing legacy. As a member of the home team, we have a unique opportunity to shine in our country that other athletes won’t experience…but with it comes unique pressures!
Q: You’ve been involved in several Paralympic promotional campaigns and media interviews in Britain. How’s it feel to see yourself in the spotlight? Did you ever anticipate this sort of publicity during your athletic career?
It is both incredibly cool and incredibly awkward to play back your interviews or see your campaign pictures! It gives me a huge sense of encouragement to know that people are interested in what I am trying to achieve and that they think it is a worthwhile endeavor. There are days when you feel on top of the world, but there are also days when you experience hardship or devastating losses in competitions, and think maybe the time away from family/financial struggles/ stress aren’t worth it. But the people that have reached out to me as a result of some of the documentaries and interviews I have done remind me that there is incredible value in Paralympic sport and that it has been worth every hard choice I have made. I never anticipated any of this – I ran simply because I loved it. I am grateful for every interview request as it gives me a chance to share my passion with others.
Q: What components do you wear when you compete? You’re currently working on a new everyday prosthesis with your prosthetist. What do you wear when you’re not competing?
When I compete, I wear an Ossur Flex Foot Cheetah, a carbon fibre socket with a built in one-way suction valve, a WillowWood Alpha® Original Liner, and a suction sleeve. The glamorous running feet tend to get all of the media attention! But your socket is as important (if not more) as the foot you run on. The socket is the interface between your body and your prosthesis – if it feels like a foreign object when you put it on, it is impossible to move well. Ultimately, it is your choice of liner combined with your prosthetist’s finesse in socket casting that will determine how much you enjoy sports and other high impact activities. I love my Alpha Liner as I am able to carry out an intense training regime across all climates without any skin breakdown.
When I am not competing, I wear a thinner version of the Alpha Original Liner, the WillowWood Trailblazer™ Foot, and a carbon fibre socket. The Trailblazer foot is new to me. I was having some problems with a stress fracture in my back and it was suggested that it may be precipitated by the way I walk. So I worked with my prosthetist and made a new leg using the Trailblazer. The result so far has been fantastic. My favourite part is the ease with which my prosthetist could customize the toe springs. We were able to match my walking stride perfectly on both legs, and as I improve and get stronger, my prosthetist can install a stiffer spring!
Q: How do you balance your training schedule with your academic work?
Fortunately, I spend lots of time traveling, so I try and get all of my work out of the way when I am sitting on planes. But the truth is, it is very difficult and stressful, and being in a constant state of stress is extremely damaging for an athlete’s recovery. I have taken a break for this semester as I didn’t feel I was able to give both my running and my studies 100%. I will continue to pursue my Master’s in Nutrition after London 2012.
Q: What’s your advice for amputees who are looking to increase their level of physical activity, whether it is in regard to athletics or everyday living?
The first step is to ensure you are 100% comfortable and confident with your prosthetic leg. I know from my own experience that the biggest motivational killer for amputees is being uncomfortable and in pain when doing an activity. Next, grab a friend and start with something that is low impact: Pilates, yoga, swimming, biking, belly dancing – be creative. And don’t forget about the friend part. It can be intimidating for anyone to try something new, especially when you are an amputee and will inevitably stand out. Taking a friend will reduce some of the anxiety and make it more fun. Finally, set a short-term fitness goal (2-3 months) with targets along the way. Tell your friends and family about them, and celebrate each target you hit!
Q: With all the traveling that you do between the UK, South Africa where you’ve been training, and the US, you’ve become quite an expert on traveling with a prosthesis. Do you have any helpful tips to share that might interest other amputees?
1) Don’t be a hero – take all of the help that is offered to you at an airport. And don’t be afraid to speak up if it is not offered. Use a luggage trolley. Use the disabled golf cart. Skip the hour-long customs line. If someone offers to carry your bag, let them. You don’t realize just how far you walk or how much you stand when you travel, especially in airports. Pulling luggage behind you and walking with a heavy knapsack for long distances is not conducive to proper walking technique. It is best to save your back. I can deadlift 225 lbs. Despite that, I always try and avoid loading my luggage into cars. But the combination of sitting for long periods, dealing with the awkward shape of my luggage, and the extra care required to get into the right lifting position when you have a fixed ankle joint mean I am not willing to risk a silly injury.
2) Take extra stump socks at a variety of thicknesses onto planes. The difference in air pressure that you experience at different altitudes affects the fit of your socket. My residual limb typically swells, and it can be quite uncomfortable to leave my prosthesis on when flying. The real problem comes when you land, and you try to put your socket back on only to realize you can’t get your residual limb in! My best advice is to take your socket off during flight if it gets uncomfortable, and wrap your residual limb in a tensor compression bandage to help control the swelling. Then, when you put your socket back on you can adjust the fit with your extra stump socks until your residual limb returns to normal size.
Thanks so much Stefanie for chatting with us! We sincerely wish you the best of luck at the London 2012 Paralympics. The games begin August 29 and conclude on September 9, 2012. Be sure to keep an eye on Stefanie! You can follow Stefanie on Twitter at @RunJumpStefReid.