Rebecca Levenberg was riding her bike to work on Nov. 9, 2010, when a garbage truck turned right from Washington Avenue onto Fifth Street, and the driver didn't see her in the bike lane.
She nearly lost her life and did lose her left leg four inches above the knee.
When she awoke from sedation in intensive care, her aunt and uncle gave her a necklace with an inscription from Confucius: "The journey of 1,000 miles begins with one step."
The phrase "always echoed in my head," Levenberg said, as she endured months of abdominal surgeries, hospitalizations and rehab. On July 9, eight months after her accident, a little more comfortable with her prosthetic leg, she set a goal - to walk 1,000 miles.
Imagine: Rebecca, 42, the oldest of six, a single and independent woman who cycled and skated with local clubs, loved yoga, lived in her own home in South Philly and worked as a special-education coordinator at Russell Byers Charter School. Her parents, siblings and grandmother all lived nearby. She had a rich, full life. She had never even met an amputee, and suddenly she became one.
She started, Mile 0, at the Art Museum, because that's where she began so many rides and inline skates, "the place where everybody knows my name," she wrote on her blog, A Thousand Miles (www.my-1000-miles.blogspot.com), which has given voice to her journey.
Mile 3 was on the Ocean City Boardwalk, because she loves the ocean and dreams of one day walking on sand and swimming again.
Mile 9 she walked with her mother, who never left her side in the hospital, and "spent the night curled up in the chair next to my bed."
Walking now is an act of faith. Every time she puts weight on her prosthetic leg, "it feels like a cliff over there," she said. "You have to learn to trust the prosthesis."
After Mile 37 she vented over "daily challenges" such as carrying groceries, cooking, doing chores. "With each mile, I'm testing my strength and realizing my losses. Sometimes my body fights back with raw exhaustion."
On Sept. 27, she hit Mile 100. (She wears a pedometer on her hip.) She and her parents went back to Fifth and Washington. She'd been avoiding that corner, terrified.
Unlike many trauma victims, Rebecca remembers.
"In my mind," she blogged, "I go back to that scene way too often. I feel the bystanders at a distance from me. I feel every last ounce of power knocked out of me. I feel the fright, helplessness, and loneliness of those long moments. Waiting."
Back for the first time, she thanked God for her life and her family, then she dropped seashells into the street. She watched in silence as traffic crushed the shells into dust.
"I wanted to show I'd been there, but I also wanted to change this place," she blogged, "to make sure it was marked forever. Tears flowed freely as I finally turned my back and walked away. I wasn't scared anymore."
By Mile 150, she got back on roller blades and resumed yoga. She was a beginner all over again, blogging: "With every pose, my brain says, 'I know how to do this.' And my body says, 'No, you don't.' "
Friday after Thanksgiving, Mile 190, she rode a bike around the block. Next day, Mile 195, she went to a mall, first time since the accident.
"We walked to and from the car," she blogged. "We tackled escalators, stairs, ramps. We browsed and window shopped. A mild afternoon for the average holiday shopper became a marathon for me. But that FREEDOM. That privilege of doing what we used to do was more precious than the priciest purse in Michael Kors!"
On Thanksgiving Sunday, Mile 198, she went walking along the Wissahickon, every step in the fallen leaves a mystery. She was angry, scared, frustrated. But she stopped and told herself, "If you want to do things you like, you have to do them with this."
Her new leg is the most advanced in the region, the Genium Bionic Prosthetic System, with microprocessers. Tim Rayer at Prosthetic Innovations in Delaware County has programmed it for "yoga mode, cycling, and skating," she said. It calculates and anticipates. Her kindergartners call it her "robot leg."
But she can't feel the tickle of tall grass, get a pedicure, or savor the sensation of sliding her leg between cool sheets on a summer night.
She has learned in her 200 miles so far that more people than she ever imagined care about her, want to help her, and this has been a heart-swelling, soul-stirring discovery. Without support of friends, family, and also doctors, nurses, therapists and other amputees, this journey would be infinitely harder if not impossible.
"No one has ever told me I can't do something, and that's very important," she said. "Everyone in my life has helped me think about how I can do things. We'll figure it out. And that makes all the difference in the world."
Watch Rebecca Levenberg talk about her goal to walk 1,000 miles on her prosthetic leg at