On any given Sunday at Go Vertical in Philadelphia, you may come across the petite and fearless Rebecca Levenberg, scaling a rock wall several stories above your head or supporting her partner's rope from the ground. Levenberg has made this climbing gym one of her regular fitness stops.
She moves with such grace that you may not notice she is climbing with a prosthetic leg.
November 9, 2015 will mark the 5th anniversary of her left above-the-knee limb loss, after a garbage truck struck her as she biked to work. Since the very beginning of her recovery and through many medical complications, she has continually challenged herself to reach new goals. As soon as she could walk on her prosthesis without crutches or a cane, she set out to walk 1,000 miles as a way to celebrate her recovery journey. She became inspired when her aunt and uncle gave her a necklace with a quote by Confucius: "The journey of 1,000 miles begins with one step." Levenberg hit her 1,000 mile goal in 2013 and did not stop there. To date, she has completed 3,300 miles and counting.
Levenberg has used her personal experiences to give back to the medical and therapy communities in many ways. She serves as a peer mentor at Magee Rehabilitation Hospital where she spends one day a week visiting patients who have experienced recent limb loss. She enjoys "helping others along similar journeys". She has lectured about her experience at multiple trauma conferences as well as to medical and therapy students. Additionally, she maintains a garden in the surgical waiting room at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital for family members of trauma patients.
Being an above-knee amputee has required Levenberg to try many new fitness avenues. Previously an avid cyclist and rollerblader in the Landskaters Inline Skate Club, she missed the challenge of a good work out and the feeling of her muscles being sore. Although she has returned to rollerblading and biking with her prosthesis, she does not feel that she can perform at the same level that she did before her accident.
She saw rock climbing as an opportunity for a new fitness challenge. Interest in this new hobby began during the Amputee Coalition Conference in 2013 where she got to watch expert rock climbers who also had experienced limb loss. Climbing alongside them, she was hooked when she felt what a good work out it was. She has even completed training to belay so that she can climb with friends on a regular basis. In rock climbing 'belaying' is the term to describe the technique used to manage the rope of a climbing partner to catch a climber's fall and lower a climber back down to the ground by providing appropriate tension through the rope.
Rock climbing has allowed Levenberg to see steady progress with her fitness level and her upper body strength, and she sees the potential to continually improve. Although she makes it look easy, climbing with a prosthesis presents a unique challenge, as it does not give her the leverage to climb the same way her right leg does. Sometimes her prosthetic leg will more so be "along for the ride" when she has to lift it up a high step.
Chris Carroll, a physical therapist at Magee, explains, "Rebecca and I have been climbing partners for just about a year now. It is amazing to watch her on the wall. She has developed her own unique climbing style and always has fun. She has a signature move that we like to call the 'flying squirrel,' where she launches herself up the wall. Her physical strength is only outmatched by her determination and constant optimism."
Although she moves with grace and apparent ease, Levenberg still has her difficult days. She sometimes cancels plans because her prosthesis is not as comfortable as she would like, or pain limits her activities. She misses the freedom that she had before her injury, being able to get up and do things without thinking about them.
But even on these tough days, she exudes courage, positivity, and gratitude. When asked who inspires her the most, she says it is the people who "continue to achieve and push forward, even if the steps are very small and despite all of the obstacles in their path."
When she is having a tough day, she reminds herself that "the greatest courage comes from getting through the daily struggles not just achieving the end result."
Not surprisingly, Levenberg, who embodies Magee's Believe in a way back motto, was the first-ever recipient of the BELIEVE Award at Magee's annual Night of Champion fundraiser this spring.
To follow her adventures, visit her blog at www.my-1000-miles.blogspot.com.