How this Amputee is Going from Victim to Victory (Adrianne Haslet)

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Adrianne Haslet wasn’t at the Boston Marathon finish line in 2013 because she was a runner. Her decision to walk by, however, changed her life as the bombs went off, taking her leg in their wake.

Now, seven years later, she’s not only running Boston for a second time as an amputee, she also convinced race association officials to add an amputee category — and she’s aiming to win it.

Get ready to be inspired through this incredible conversation with Adrianne about healing in the outdoors through a sport she never even considered before the bombing. Adrianne isn’t just fighting back against what happened — she’s winning.

Some of the good stuff:

[1:35] Adrianne’s favorite outdoor space
[3:50] How Adrianne’s leg was taken from her
[4:25] Adrianne’s Boston bombing story
[7:20] Who Adrianne is now compared to before the bombing
[13:50] Adrianne’s big Boston goal
[17:30] Amy speaks on behalf of the world
[18:26] Adrianne’s love of good vibes and inspiration
[21:52] How Adrianne’s relationship with the outside changed
[24:40] How calm outdoor moments trigger PTSD
[28:00] How it feels to establish a new Boston division
[29:30] Adrianne’s travel story
[34:05] Amputee outdoor challenges
[37:12] The outdoor things you notice as an amputee
[38:45] How Adrianne keeps a positive outlook
[43:01] Adrianne’s favorite outdoor gear
[43:40] Adrianne’s most essential outdoor gear
[43:25] Adrianne’s favorite outdoor moment

Connect with this episode:

Mentioned in the show: 

Coach Bennett

Fred Estaire the Therapy Dog

Annapurna Circuit, Nepal 

REI Trai Maintenance

Patagonia trail maintenance 

Nalgene water bottle

Maasai Mara National Preserve, Kenya

Favorite gear:
Nalgene water bottle: 

Most essential gear:
Madewell fannypack:

Follow Adrianne on social media (and get ready to be seriously inspired):
Instagram: @adriannehaslet and #adriannestrong

Affiliate links included above


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Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation on The Humans Outside Podcast. Listen to the episode on iTunes, Google Podcasts, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.

Amy Bushatz: It’s easy to pretend that everything is easy. What’s hard is living with authenticity. When terrible things happen, I mean, really, really terrible things, we have options, right? We can let them overcome us. We can pretend that they are not that terrible and that we are just strong and fine, thanks, while probably suffering alone, where no one will ever see. Or we can do our best to balance staying positive while also asking for help. That’s the track runner, dancer, advocate, and amputee Adrianne Haslet has chosen to take. A survivor of, first, the Boston Marathon bombing, and then last year a distracted driver who hit her while she was crossing a street, Adrianne inspires thousands with her dedication, authenticity and accessibility. And we are so excited to have her on the Humans Outside Podcast. Adrianne, welcome. 

Adrianne Haslet: Thank you. Thank you, Amy. I’m so excited to be here. Thanks for having me.

AB: So we like to start our show pretending we’re in our guest’s favorite outdoor space, just hanging out, drinking coffee or something. So where are we with you today?

AH: Oh, I love that. You know, it’s funny. You mentioned coffee, one of my favorite things. And I think it’s one of my favorite things because it’s my favorite place. Seattle, Washington where I grew up. This is a great question. By the way. I love the question. I came up with like 50 answers and then I finally was like — oh wait, no, I know exactly what it is. It’s the bench right outside of the Pike Place Market in downtown Seattle. Cup of Starbucks in my hand, sorry to the Dunkin crew, I’m in Boston now. But we are seated at that bench and it’s overlooking Puget Sound. The ocean right there in Seattle and smelling the fish market and the pastries baking and seeing the buzz of the market while still experiencing the mountains. You look straight forward and you’re in that little park that I can’t remember the name of. But you look straight forward and you see the Sound and then you see the Cascade Mountains, snow capped. It’s a sunny day in Seattle. And we actually have a lot of sunny days in Seattle. We just don’t tell people that so everybody won’t move there. And it’s in the market. It’s the most beautiful, most perfect place on earth. And when I do get the chance to go home, that is my first stop. That was my grocery store. Seattle didn’t have grocery stores downtown for a long time. And it was my grocery store for 11 years when I was living on my own before I moved to Boston. It’s a beautiful, beautiful place. That’s where we are. 

AB: I have absolutely been exactly where you’re talking about. And I know that we’re, you know, we’re a little chilly because even on a sunny day, there’s this bone deep, wet cold that happens. But you got it. You got the sun on your face. It’s starting to warm up and hey, it’s a good day to share some coffee at Pike’s Place.

AH: Yeah, it really is. It really is. I love it. I think when you’re from there, you don’t notice the cold as much. You know, like once you experience East Coast humidity then you notice the cold more. But when you just live there, it’s just your normal. But yeah, it’s beautiful. 

AB: Well, as I mentioned earlier, you are a survivor of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing where your leg was taken from you. And I’m not going to say you lost it, because that makes it sound like it wandered off or something, which it did not.

AH: Thank you! I appreciate that so much! I still struggle with exactly how – and struggle, meaning I just don’t know exactly how I want it to be worded yet. But I don’t like lost, so thank you.

AB: Yeah. And lost makes it sound way more fair than it was, right? 

AH: Right?! Like I lost my car keys or I lost my phone or something. It seems so casual.

AB: On that day you were not at the finish line because you are a runner. In fact, you had never run at all. You were a ballroom dancer and you just happened to wander by.

AH: Yep, yeah, it’s true. I was a full time ballroom dancer at the time, as my career, as my profession. It was my passion. And I was wandering around. I had taken a day off. I had just one third in the world in ballroom dancing in Vegas, and I got back and decided to take a day off. And I was wandering around. I did not know anything about a marathon. I had forged notes in my gym class in school to get out of running that obligatory mile that everybody does in high school. Do they still do that? I don’t know. They did it at my school. And I just never ran. I was always a dancer. And I took the day off. And I heard all this commotion going on over at Boylston Street. And I walked over and I saw people running and I thought — oh, they’re running a marathon. I knew the word marathon, but I didn’t know the distance. And I saw people white in the face. It was really sunny that day. I saw people white in the face and about to pass out. It was that last stretch on Boylston Street, and I thought that it was obscene that people would run far and practically kill themselves for a statement necklace and a free banana. And I was like — this is just crazy. And then I kept walking and I didn’t realize, I wasn’t knowingly doing this. I was walking away from the finish line. And I heard a blast go off behind me. And it shook the ground so violently that I thought — that’s a terrorist attack. That’s hopefully not a go-to thing when something bad happens, that we’re living in that much fear, but I definitely knew and I yelled that. Actually I yelled, “It’s a terrorist attack,” which does get you investigated by the FBI, which is fine. But I yelled “terrorist attack” and I plugged my ears just trying to, you know, brace myself. I don’t know what made me do that. And the next one went off and I went down and I lost my left foot and half of my calf. So I lost that on impact. So I have half my calf left, on my left side, I got a giant gash in my right thigh, my upper right thigh. But luckily, I was able to keep my right leg. Very lucky for that. It’s actually right above my kneecap. Which, it’s interesting, I was wearing heels that day. Most people wore kicks that day because it’s Marathon Monday. Now I know that, but at the time, I wasn’t even allowed to leave the house without heels on, just because you’re training your feet to constantly be in heels. So I was in four and a half inch platforms that day. And if I hadn’t been in those heels, I would have lost both legs.

AB: I was hoping that you could talk to us a little bit about who you were before the bombing, who you became after it, and who you are now because this is, you know, it’s not a, one day you’re changed and that’s the end. Right?

AH: Right. I mean, it is in like in a big picture way — I’m so much different. I’m doing air quotes right now that you can’t see. The proverbial “they” say that when you’ve been through trauma and you are going through something and you’re trying to get to the core essence of who you are, it’s not about becoming anything. It’s about carving away what you’ve been told to become, and then being left with your authentic self, which I think is the transformation that happened with me. You know, I was raised – we’re talking about the outdoors here – and I was raised, you know, playing outside. There’s certainly, you know, no TV in my house, no Internet – Internet hadn’t been invented yet. And you know, I grew up playing outside and getting dirty and playing in the dirt. Then I discovered ballroom dancing and I really became this person that needed to be spray tanned — PS I still do that, I can’t give that up. I couldn’t leave the house without heels on and you know, three hours of makeup and hair and certainly showering every day, if not twice a day. Not that I don’t do that, but like to the obsessive. Part of not feeling good enough, was at the core of all of that, where the essence of who I was in no makeup and fresh out of bed – I would never go get a cup of coffee without being done up. And I hate saying that. Now I’m sort of embarrassed. But it’s who I was. And I own that. And I think that comes from a culture of dance – a culture of insecurities, certainly – but a culture of dance where like, your idea of made up on an average day of three hours of getting ready is your normal and then your six hours of getting ready for a ballroom competition is like, really made up. Where now, that just sounds terribly exhausting. 

So I think to answer your question, you know, the who I was before, I think I was really insecure. I wouldn’t have admitted that before because I didn’t see it. But looking back now, hindsight being 20/20, I see that I wasn’t my best self and and I was living out the dream of being a ballroom dancer, and that was beautiful and awesome. And, you know, my friends certainly will say, “We didn’t see this insecure person. But you were made up all the time.” I certainly needed to be. I didn’t understand when people could just like go out. I just thought it was sloppy and lazy. I hate even saying that, but it’s true. 

So everything happened and I was left without, you know, part of a body part that I was known for. My feet were my tool to do not only my career, my moneymaker was with ballroom dancing, but I was defined by that, you know, by using my feet. To have something be taken away that’s such a definition of being feminine, you know, your leg in high heels. It was really tough. So many people in that industry that I thought I was friends with, really dismissed me and that was a hard awakening. 

And after all of that kind of became my new normal of not being who I was before, partly because of missing a foot and there was no going back, and partly because of a choice of really looking at those people while sitting in a hospital bed thinking — I don’t want to be like you anymore. That’s not the role model that I want anymore in my life, my life is different now. And I want it to be authentic and we’re only here for a short time. All of those thoughts that can happen with sudden trauma. I really carved away at who I wanted to be. But I got into therapy pretty quickly, knowing that I needed to. And I think that really helped in accepting me for who I am, you know, now is throwing snot rockets and doing long runs and laughing with friends and not caring if I have, you know, heels or makeup on and the latest fashion. That’s my very long answer to your question. 

AB: Yeah, no, I mean, that’s exactly what I was asking, though, right? I mean, we can all talk about the stories of things that are terrible, things that happen and to tell that story. But the real story is there is, as people who are human, how we move through that, how it changed us, and where we are today compared to that. Because again, it’s not like a linear thing, right? 

AH: Oh gosh, no. I tried to go back to that person. And I thought — this is, you know, so much effort and I’m just being valued for my looks and my looks aren’t the same anymore. And there’s so much more to me. I think when anyone who’s been through therapy, good therapy, some therapists are awful. I’ve said it took me a long time to find mine. And that’s a hard process. But when you find the right therapist, and they start digging away at who you are at your core, you stop defining yourself by outward needs and outward approval, including looks. I don’t want to sound like I don’t put any effort into myself anymore. That’s certainly not the case. But if you compare it to what I was before, it’s a significant change. And I don’t define myself by that, which is a really, really freeing thing. It seems very small to people, but when you’ve been raised for – you know, I’m 39 now – when you’ve been raised for that long to look at that, it’s tough to break away from.

AB: But you say you don’t put any effort in that, and I’m just thinking about my next question, which is about how the fact that you are now a runner. It’s an incredible amount of effort. And right now you are laser focused on just this incredible goosebump-giving goal. Okay. I mean, for me, I’m just your stalker. Right? But, you want to be the first-ever female winner of a new category at Boston?

AH: Yes, I do.

AB: So Boston has had some para divisions before. So what’s new this year, and tell us how you are pretty much directly responsible for that, which I think is the coolest thing ever, by the way.

AH: Well, thank you so much. I do have this big scary goal of winning the Boston Marathon first-ever Para-Athletic Division in a new category, which is Amputee Division. And to be clear, as you said, the para division was something that was already included in the Boston Marathon. It has, what you call, push rim wheelchairs, where you see someone pushing someone in a wheelchair, and then you have, what they call, hand cycle, which is when you see the wheelchairs go by where they’re using their arms to pump their own wheels on their wheelchair. But this year, we now have a para division where you can stand and be an amputee and run the race in a running blade. So I say standing because I mean upright. I need to get better at my terms with all of this. But as the marathon progresses, everybody’s getting better with their terms as well. 

It’s really, really exciting. It’s something that when I became a runner in 2013/2014, after losing my leg, as a giant thank you to Boston, I wanted to run the Boston Marathon. I didn’t know anything about running before. And I said, in an interview with Anderson Cooper about four days after I lost my leg, I said, “I’m going to run the Boston Marathon!” And he was like, “What? You just told me you’re not a runner.” Meanwhile, my dad’s in the background behind the camera, waving his arms, like, “Don’t do that.” When I said it, I had no idea what 26.2 miles even meant, I’d never run a mile. So I didn’t even know. And I did it. I ran in 2016. And I had, you know, I had met people like Shalane Flanagan and Lelisa Desisa. And I’d seen people break the tape at other races. And I thought — I really want to do that. I want to win this thing. And I noticed that there was not a division for para athletes. To be clear, I could have gotten in a chair and done it but that wasn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted to be able to stand and run. Because that was how I ran, and you know, people are in the chairs, that’s how they run. And that’s great, but there should be an option for each one of us. 

And I went to the BAA, the Boston Athletic Association, and I said, this should be a thing. And they kept saying — no, you know, you’re not going to get sponsored. We can’t do a lead vehicle. There’s just not enough people out there that want to run. It’s not a big population. And I said — you know, actually, it’s the largest minority population in the entire country. And a lot of people don’t know that. There’s certainly no candidates gearing toward the largest minority category and nobody really knows that. But you can’t say there aren’t enough of us. There are 2.2 million amputees in the nation, and 575 new amputees every single day in America. There are plenty of us that want to run and I really advocated for every single one of them and the people that, you know, one day want to have big scary goals and be seen as athletes and not as disabled. 

And they eventually folded and said — you know, we’ve had enough people come up to us and say we should do this. We’re going to do it in 2020. And I opened my big mouth and not only said, will I run it, I want to win it. 

So I’m training really hard right now. I can barely move most days. It’s a big scary goal to fulfill and I’m really proud of myself for really pushing for that and having some difficult conversations to get there.

AB: I want to make sure you know that everyone who follows you, I’m going to go ahead and speak for the world right now. Everyone who follows you is in your corner on this. And, you know, I think we all think that you can do it and we’re super impressed with how hard you’re training. I mean, talk about inspiration. If I’m feeling like not going for a run with my two complete legs, I jump on your Instagram feed and think — okay, look, look Amy. Listen here. She is out there. Get your butt outside.

AH: Thank you so much! If anyone listening is not already following Coach Bennett, he’s the head running coach of Nike, and he reached out to me and said some really inspiring words. And I said — oh my gosh, thank you so much. I really needed that. I’m trying to get out the door for a run. And he said to me a phrase that I say to others when they tell me, you know, I really look to for inspiration, which is, “we’re all on a relay race passing the baton of inspiration.” And I thought — oh, man, that’s a good way to say it. Because for every person that looks at mine and thinks — oh, I’m going to get out for my run, I’m doing the same with somebody else. So it’s just all of us. Just passing the torch of inspiration which, you know, I think is a really good reminder that social media can be a really good thing. And I think I’ve seen that in the running community more so than anywhere else, as someone who used to be in the ballroom community, it’s the polar opposite. So I’m a big fan.

AB: Not everyone who listens to this podcast is a runner, although I am on a not-so-secret, you know, track to make that change. But what you’re saying transcends running, right? This is the same with every hard thing you’ll ever face. And I think it’s especially pertinent to trying new things or doing something, maybe that’s not initially pleasant outside, right, because so much of the things we do in nature are, I mean, they’re hard, right? There is very little that’s fun about getting out there and backpacking in the rain, right? Or about trying something new for the first time. That’s just, you know, scary and it’s a risk, right? So I just love what you’re saying because I think it’s about more than just running, although everyone should be a runner.

AH: Yeah, it’s pretty fun! There’s a reason our comfort zone is inside with air conditioning or heat, or you know, running water. That’s the reason it’s difficult to get outside and experience new things. But if there’s anything I know, it’s that those are the times when I feel most whole, for sure. Not necessarily running, but but backpacking or doing any of those things.

AB: Getting ready for, you know, your goal of being the winner of the category which you are 100% going to do –

AH: I need your confidence. I totally do. I need your confidence. I have a tough workout tomorrow.

AB: All right, there we go. Getting ready for that involves an incredible amount of time outside. You run outside, you’re spending time outside. So talk to me about how your relationship with nature and the outdoors has changed since the bombing. I mean, the bombing happened outside, you know, it’s just, there’s a lot of intertwined things here. So what was your relationship with nature and spending time outside like before the bombing and what is it now?

AH: Yeah, great question. You know, I grew up in the Pacific Northwest. We chatted for a second before we started recording about how much we both love Alaska. I was raised outside and hiking and camping all the time and, especially if you live in Seattle, you’re camping in the rain. So I was comfortable being uncomfortable. And that is the definition of running, especially for a goal that I have that is so big and you’re pushing your body to its limits. And so I was pretty comfortable being uncomfortable outside. That was sort of a norm when you’re hiking or or you know, trying to play in the sand or swimming at the beach. Like, it’s finally 65 – warm, which most people would consider that cold. So I really loved the outdoors. I was never a real sports person outside of dancing; I didn’t play like soccer or baseball or any of that – softball, whatever you play as a girl growing up. But I just loved it. I love the outdoors. I love hiking outdoors. I loved picnicking. I loved summertime, I grew up on a lake. So, you know, splashing around in the lake every single day was always a blast. And growing up and traveling was really fun. And after, you know, I think one of the things that really stood out to me about the bombing happening outside on such a peaceful day, I was in such a good mood that day. And it was sunny, and people were cheering and everyone was so happy because it’s right at the finish line. So loved ones are seeing people that they love coming across and accomplishing their goal. You know, the Boston Marathon is considered a unicorn for a reason because it’s almost unattainable. And they’re seeing them accomplish their goal and their smile. I believe in energy, and all of that energy that’s around, I was feeling all of that and in such a good mood, and then the blast happened. There’s one thing I know about, that I’ve learned about PTSD. My dog is gonna bark here in a second. He heard me say PTSD. He’s a service dog. 

AB: His name is Fred Astaire!

AH: Fred Astaire, after dancing. You’re alright buddy. Mommy’s okay. That’s his cue.

AB: We will include a picture of him with the show notes.

AH: Oh perfect. It’s perfect. Yeah, he can make his appearance, such a performer. 

But if there’s something I learned about PTSD, it’s that if something happened on a really calm day, it’s in the calm moments where you think it’s going to happen again, which is really scary and frightening. So it’s mostly in these calm outdoor moments that I have now that I actually have the most flashbacks. So in the chaos of it all, I’m not having that. But I’ve found that in the calming moments, I have that flashback. So that makes it tough. To answer your question, my relationship of being outdoors since then, one of the things that I did that’s quite uncomfortable and really pushed me to my limits within that first year of losing my leg, is I got my adaptive diving license certificate. I went deep sea diving right off the coast of Costa Rica with a bunch of sharks. And I learned how to do breathing exercises underwater to stay underwater longer. And that has saved me in moments of chaos more than anything else. I joke with my therapist that I could have forgotten all of his therapy and just had the just had the breathing exercises that I learned in diving because it keeps you calm. It’s a form of meditation. But I think, you know, those early experiences of being uncomfortable outdoors really helped. Instead of waiting until later to go back to the finish line or wait until later to do the difficult scary things, I think I really pulled from that to be able to get through some of my long runs when it’s cold and uncomfortable and I’m gasping for air or my body is aching to stop; that’s what I pull from are those those difficult scary moments where I persevered. And I just think — if I made it through that, I can make it through this. It’s those hard experiences that I think get you through. I have more days that I show up where I don’t want to show up then days than I do.

AB: Oh, it absolutely makes sense. That includes going back and crossing the street again where that person hit you with their car.

AH: Yeah, it does. That happened right outside my house. It was 20 feet from the door of my home and I’ve since moved because they sold my building. But it happened right outside. And I was just walking to dinner. I wasn’t even running! I had the right of way in the crosswalk and I got slammed. The guy was going about 35 and I’m the only thing that stopped him. He didn’t even hit the brakes. It’s terrifying. And being a runner, it’s terrifying to even cross the street now. Especially running, I stop and I slow down. That’s frustrating and difficult. And there are a catrillian flashbacks that happen with that. There are the occasional fingers that I throw at cars that don’t stop right away, or might yell at me. There’s still, you know, certainly a lot of anger in there that comes out, but I try and just kick asphalt every time and hope that, you know, those people that are trying to cut me off and see me run in front of them with my running blade know that pretty soon and hopefully, they’ll see me on Boylston Street, breaking the tape and they’ll start thinking differently about how they drive. Maybe. In my head, that’s how it’s gonna work out. Right. That’s how I get through it.

AB: I like it. I had this mental picture of you doing that, and it looks good, Girl!

AH: Thanks. I don’t know. I want it so badly. You know, that night when the news broke of the new para division, I had known for about two months, but I wasn’t allowed to tell anybody. So I just told, well I told a lot of people, but I didn’t tell anybody publicly. And that night when the news broke at the press conference about it, I was, of course lying in bed with my social media at night, and bawling my eyes out from pure happiness. You know those videos on YouTube or social media where the parents are telling their kids they’re going to Disneyland or getting a puppy and they opened the pizza box and everybody cries? It’s like written out on a pizza box? There were parents that were sending me videos. I’m gonna cry again. There were parents sending me videos of their kids, that they were telling their kids that were amputees that they could one day win the Boston Marathon. And I lost my mind. I had so many videos of people. I still get videos of these kids. Of course, I don’t post them. There are like nine year olds that are training for Boston already and they want to win when they turn 18 or 19 or whatever year you can do it and it’s so moving. I just think about all those little kids that will be watching that day and parents of kids and adults that want to try it, too. It’s just awesome.

AB: Well, if you’re not crying, I’m crying.

AH: I am. I have to get good at running and crying at the same time. It’s a new practice of mine.

AB: So you’ve enjoyed travel all your life, like you said earlier, we’re talking about you coming up here to Alaska. But since becoming an amputee you’ve definitely not stopped. So if anything, you’re doing it with a new purpose. Talk to me about your travel. Talk to me about your outdoor exploits as an amputee and all this cool stuff you’re up to outside of, you know, getting ready to, you know, win Boston.

AH: Outside of that, no big deal. I really have been able to travel a lot in the past. It’s been 6 and a half years since losing my leg and you know, I’ve been traveling a ton. I’ve had so many opportunities for work, for number one – joy; but number two – paying the bills. I do public speaking. So I travel and speak to anyone from commencement speeches to hospitals and schools, corporations, so on and so forth, all around the globe. And I’ve been lucky to travel to some pretty remarkable places. A little over a year ago, I went to Kenya with the We Organization, which is awesome. If anyone looks that up, it’s called, thinking less about me and more about we. That’s an organization that one of my friends started. And it’s an amazing organization. I speak at their We Days, these 57,000 people stadium tours all over the country in Canada that we do and they do have them in London, as well. And they said, you know, you’ve been doing these for a long time, you should come to one of our on site places that we’re working with education and water and financial literacy and building homes. And I went out to Kenya and did volunteer work for a week. And then I was able to take two and a half weeks on my own, and did a solo Safari and went to the coast, almost on the coast of Somalia, but still in Kenya. I sat on the coast for a long time and was able to be out there with the animals. 

I did Costa Rica shark diving in 2014. And that was a real getaway vacation, but it was really awesome that I was able to meet the very first person – who happened to be a woman – who was getting her adaptive diving license in Costa Rica. She’s the first person ever to get an adaptive diving certificate in the country and really was on the news a lot and showed people that they can do it too, and they can experience this, which as I said, it really helps with PTSD.

And then after the quakes in 2016, the quakes in Nepal, I called down to the hospital there and teamed up with an organization and went to Nepal and helped the hospital with some of their amputees, and talking with them and kind of bridging that gap of accessibility with Parts and Pieces of Legs here in the US to be able to provide that to people in Nepal. And then I did about half the Annapurna circuit to kind of clear my head of all that trauma. 

I’ve done Ecuador twice to climb mountains, raising money for amputees out in Ecuador. 

I’ve done a lot of travel and I think now it’s really about showing people that it’s accessible and, if it’s not, then trying to partner with the countries there to try and figure out how it can be. I was able to meet with the president of Nepal. It’s all women, by the way. The whole government of Nepal is all women, which was really surprising to learn. Really talking to them about how to make the Annapurna circuit a little bit more accessible without changing the nature of it, you know, without putting in wheelchair ramps and bulldozing the whole thing. So it’s, it’s really awesome to be able to experience those things and come back and talk about them in speeches and with people like you and tell people that it is accessible and and it’s about knowing what to ask for. And what to ask for in planes too, because accessibility and travel and being outdoors, you have to be able to get there and not all planes and automobiles and trains are easily accessible as they should be right here in the US. 

AB: So true. You’ve done quite a bit of hiking as a kid. How is that different from before? Are there maybe some things that someone who has two legs like myself hasn’t thought through about the challenges with that?

AH: Yeah, you know, I think it’s really difficult to do it right away as an amputee because it’s hard to trust that that leg is underneath you. One of the things that is the most difficult, besides the act of actually not having the leg anymore, is placing something on the ground and then putting all your body weight on it and trusting that it will just hold you and stay there on a wet ground or wet cement or wet dirt or mud and lifting your other foot up and placing it down. Because if any of us has ever stepped on ice or slid at all on a leaf, you know, when it’s fall outside and there are leaves all over the ground. It can be scary to lose your footing, even for a split second. It’s scary to slip on ice and that’s how it feels all the time for walking as an amputee. So I think something that is really difficult in hiking, I don’t feel whether there’s a branch that’s right above my foot, so I need to move it out of the way. So I could trip really easily with that. I don’t feel things touching my foot. I don’t feel that I’m stable. So I think there’s a level of trust that you have to build with your new leg. That only happens with time. And that is difficult. And I had a lot of amputees that were visitors in my hospital that said — oh, it takes time and then you’ll just pretty soon you’ll be walking and hiking and not remember the difference. I’m like — there’s no way that’s gonna happen. Like, you just feel so lost in the beginning. But it does. It does. It’s just hard to see it at the beginning. 

But you know, I think one thing that people can really do when you’re out on a trail or you’re outdoors and you see something like, obviously trash, we’re all good about picking up trash on trails. I think anyone who’s a hiker knows you should do that. But if you see branches just lying out in the center, and it’s not going to serve anyone by staying there, try and to move it. You know, I think we all know that roots and stuff, you shouldn’t move those. But I think any sort of clearing the trails projects, like REI has some really good clearing trails projects, I think Patagonia does as well. And I think anytime anybody can volunteer with those, it helps accessibility, for sure. 

And then also, not parking in the first spot. You know, they don’t have a lot of accessibility parking spots at trail heads. So not parking right next to the trail. If you have two legs, park further away, let somebody else have that spot who needs it. Even if it’s not an accessibility spot.

AB: That’s so interesting. Both of those things make such good sense, right? But I never would have stopped to think about trail maintenance as an accessibility issue for other than just like the category of all humans, right? Like, trails look nicer, trails are easier to use, they’re more accessible, right? I never would have thought of it as an amputee-specific issue or as a disability issue.

AH: Yeah, for sure. I wouldn’t have either, before. But now I do. It’s interesting, you know, living in Boston, navigating all the old brownstone shops, you know, there’s a lot of a lot of shopping in brownstones here and there are lots of stairs and a lot of places just aren’t accessible. And that’s not a diss to Boston at all. It’s just how our city is built, and how old it is. But it’s interesting what you notice after becoming an amputee. You know, people that use the accessible restroom when there’s nobody else in it. Those kinds of things. Even if nobody else is in it, it still makes you feel like you still have to wait for someone who feels privileged that they can use it. It’s a different mindset. So I think, you know, really making sure that you’re parking somewhere else or clearing that trail for someone else or or just saying hi on the trail and making everyone feel welcome. It just goes such a long way. It really does. 

And, you know, I think one of the hardest things for me on trails is in the fall, which is the most beautiful time to be hiking in New England. But the leaves pile up so deep and they’re so slick. That can be really a challenge. It’s a beautiful challenge. But it’s such a challenge to not feel your feet underneath you. 

AB: I never would have thought of that. Thank you. 

AH: Yeah, thank you for asking. It’s a great question.

AB: How do you balance living in a place of, you know, working so hard towards this incredible goal and these things that are a challenge with the discouragement that is something we all naturally feel? How do you keep a positive outlook?

AH: Ooh, I don’t know. It’s a good question. I don’t feel like I’m very good at it. Even though a lot of people will say that I’m inspiring or always positive. You know, I’m the only one living in my head, so I know all the dark places I can go. So I definitely don’t feel that. I am that way, but, you know, I think it’s about that famous word balance, right? Where I know that if I’m what I would call spiraling, meaning — oh, I can’t do this and who am I to think I can win, this it’s such a distance. I stopped my run three miles short today because my leg was bugging me, I’m never gonna be able to, you know — and that’s what I consider spiraling. When you’re thinking — I can’t, I can’t, I can’t. And you just can’t stop that cycle in your head. 

I book an extra therapy appointment, I call a friend and say — I need to go for coffee. Or I just stare at Fred Astaire. My service dog makes it better. I take him to the dog park. I have what I call healthy coping mechanisms that I do. And you know what, some days I just don’t work out. I just don’t do it. I just skip it. And I tell my coach — like I didn’t do it. I didn’t do it today. And I couldn’t. Sometimes, you know, we as runners, or hikers, or people that are athletic or love the outdoors, we have injuries, right? We might have a torn achilles or tendon and that keeps us there. But we forgive ourselves for being physically unable to go do those things because we’re injured. And I think we as a collective society need to be better – I’m speaking to myself as well – but I think we need to be better about knowing when we’re injured in our head and our heart. And sometimes that might last a minute or an hour or a day, and saying — you know what, I’m going to forgive myself. I’ve been through a lot, and it’s okay to take a day and not do it. And one workout isn’t going to completely ruin my marathon goal. I know this, because I’ve skipped a workout before and still done really well. I don’t do it often, obviously. Or even just doing half of it, or doing a gym session instead of a run, or doing a run instead of a gym session. 

You know, I think that’s how I get by, is knowing how much I can take. Not only physically and knowing your body and what you can push, whether it’s discomfort or pain and knowing the difference. Or you know, knowing the difference between this is — I’m really really spiraling and I need to just go for a walk, make myself feel better, and then run later tonight instead. 

I think that that’s how I balance it, is really just being in touch with who I am emotionally and where I am in my journey. And as much work as I’ve done in six and a half years since losing my leg, I was hit by a car only a year ago, so that’s traumatizing. Getting out there and running amongst cars – and I live in downtown Boston, right near where I was hit – and that’s hard. I can be mid-run and be really, really pissed off at cars and have that get ahead of my goal and that’s not good. So, you know, I think it’s about me not letting cars, when it’s me taking legal action that I can’t talk about what I really want to, about how deep I’m going with this, and not taking a small suit in trying to really make a huge giant act of change in cell phone use in this country, and that’s all I can say about that for now. But I think it’s those kinds of things where you think — okay, what action items am I taking? And when you’re self-doubting, you think — I’m doing XYZ to make it better, you know, and, and that’s all I can do right now. And then I run, and that’s what I did. You know, and that has to be good enough at some point.

AB: Yeah. Okay. 

AH: I gave really rambling answers.

AB: No, instead of talking to you all day, which I totally can – 

AH: I could do that as well!

AB: And we could make everybody listen to that, we’re gonna go right to our Leftovers Round now. Okay. So this is where we ask questions that I didn’t have a chance to ask before. Tell us, what is your favorite outdoor gear item.

AH: My favorite outdoor gear item is my Nalgene, my water bottle. I have a specific one that I use for hiking and outdoor adventures different than running. I have a trillion stickers on it, piled throughout the years of travel. One is Cotopaxi Mountain and one is diving with sharks and a bunch of from national parks that I visited as a kid. I love getting stickers and sticking them on that Nalgene. It’s been all over the globe with me for at least two decades. 

AB: My Nalgene is like my security blanket.

AH: Yeah, for sure. Absolutely.

AB: What is your most essential outdoor gear item?

AH: The fanny pack! I am a big fan of the fanny pack. I would say my backpack, but I don’t always bring that because it’s not always a giant backpack kind of adventure, right? My essential is a fanny pack. I have a few. It depends on the adventure, but the one that I love the most is from Madewell that I got, probably two years ago, three years ago. They still have it. My friend got one the other day, I convinced her, but it’s nice. It’s like a cognac, leather color. And it has a zipper. It comes with a great belt. It’s leather, so the more it gets wet and rained on or dropped in the mud, it gets better. And I just live with it. It’s my essential. But you know, I have like the waterproof fanny pack that I would bring on a big adventure because I don’t like taking the backpack off every time I need bug spray or lotion or something. Or a candy bar. So I like the REI one that’s bigger. But the fanny pack, I can’t live without it. 

AB: I like a sling bag. 

AH: Oh yeah, the sling bag is a good one. My friends are mortified by even me even mentioning the fanny pack. No one will hike with me with the fanny pack. I don’t care. I’m owning it. That’s what I use. If you invite me hiking, it’s what I’m bringing.

AB: Fair enough, be warned.

AH: Nobody likes it, but I’m all about it. It’s just what I use.

AB: Alright. And last but not least, because this is actually my favorite question of the entire podcast: describe for us your most favorite outdoor moment ever. If you close your eyes and think about a time in the outdoors that gives you joy, where are you and what are you doing?

AH: Hands down, in the middle of the Masai Mara, Kenya. I am on an adventure in a Jeep by myself with one Masai warrior. And that’s the driver that comes out there and protects you against the wildlife, should they decide to turn on you. I have a mason jar of white wine in my hand. I have cheese on the seat next to me and crackers. And there’s a family of like six elephants that are walking near the Jeep. And three of them are babies and we’re in the middle of nowhere. There’s not a single other person in sight. It’s just me on a solo adventure, being brave, being an amputee, not knowing what I’m going to do the next day or what time it is, or have cell phone service. I’m just there with elephants in the most peaceful, most amazing moment. Hands down. It was there. I’ve had some good moments outdoors. But that was when I thought — this is it. It’s 10 in the morning, and this guy already poured me wine. And this is awesome. It was great. It was a good moment. Like a really, really good moment. I mean, the elephants were holding onto each other’s tusks and tails like they do in the story books I grew up on. It’s pretty cool.

AB: Thank you so much for coming on the Humans Outside Podcast. We are just so incredibly thrilled to have you. 

AH: Thank you so much, Amy. I’m thrilled to be here. I could talk to you all day. Thanks for having me.

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