My Story

Hi. My name is Glenn. I am an above-knee amputee. For those of you interested in my story and how I got this way, read on...

As a kid, I grew up in Hampton, Virginia, living on the banks of Sunset Creek. At the age of about 13 I purchased a sailboat, with money I had made working on the weekends at a local marina, and immediately fell in love with the water and the wind. I would sail many days after getting home from school and of course almost every weekend. After getting a driver's license and purchasing my first car, I began to travel to regattas, both nearby and distant, to satisfy my craving to be on the water. I was a good kid and always stayed out of trouble.

At the age of 21, my life was dramatically changed by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The shiny car that I had so tediously restored was struck one night by a utility trailer that had broken loose from the truck that was pulling it. It crossed the median and pierced my car, ripped the engine off its mounts, punched through the firewall, and struck me in the knee as it passed between the front seats. I looked at my leg on the floor as I relaxed and waited for death to take me away. It never did.

After spending two weeks in the hospital, I began to put my life back together. There was a lot to learn about being an amputee. Doctors, lawyers, insurance companies, catching up on missed classes, going back to work. It was almost like starting my life all over again. On one hand it was exciting because there was always something new, something to learn, forward progress, but of course there was a lot of frustration and discomfort.

After the first year with my initial prosthetist I became very unhappy with his lack of concern for what I thought was a poor product he had supplied me and began my search for a new prosthetist. I finally found Tidewater Prosthetics who was willing to help me face the challenges that I had in front of me. I wanted someone who would support anything that I wanted to tackle. I wanted to return to the water but I was not much interested in going back to racing sailboats like I had done in years past. I had a much greater challenge before me. Just before my accident I had started to learn to windsurf. Now I wanted to continue where I had left off. This was the greatest challenge I had ever faced because I wanted so much to do it yet I was so afraid that I would be crushed if I could not get back on a board.

After eleven years, everything was set. I forked out the money for a used board and all the necessary gear. In April of 1994 I entered the waters of the Chesapeake Bay in front of a beach full of sunbathers glaring at me. I knew they must have thought I was crazy. Maybe I was. I made a complete fool of myself that day. I struggled for several hours and wore myself out to the point of exhaustion. I would get the sail up for a few seconds and get slammed into the water or lose my balance and fall in. I ignored the people on the beach who, I'm sure, continued to watch me struggle. Since the wind was slightly offshore, I drifted further and further away from shore as well as further and further down the beach. After at least a couple of hours of this maddening activity I accepted defeat (temporarily) and sat down on the board and began to paddle myself in at a snail's pace. Nearing exhaustion even more, I finally swallowed my pride and hailed a passing boat whose operator was gracious enough to take me and my gear close to the shore so that I was able to make it to the beach on my own. The walk back to my van was over a mile and the sand spurs went so deep into my feet that I had to pull them out of my prosthetic foot with pliers. I was so tired that I had become nauseated. All I cared about was water and rest.

The next weekend I did it all over again. Then I did it again. And again. And again. And again. And I haven't stopped since. I spent 112 days on the water the next year at windsurfing sites from Connecticut the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

So, what did I learn from all of this? I learned that I can do practically anything if I just want to bad enough. And that's what I'd like to pass on to others in my shoe. (I just made a joke there). It's up to you to set your sights and aim for what you really want. You may be quite surprised how easily you can reach your dreams.

I have only one leg that I also use in the water but I change out the knee/shin/foot by a Ferrier Coupler. My suction socket is a flexible, translucent Flexilene, mounted in a black carbon frame and laminated with a Lycra sleeve printed with a flame pattern. I'm using an aluminum and titanium Multiplex ProSport knee/shin made by USMC that's dampened by a Mauch SNS unit. I am using a Ohio Willow Wood Pathfinder foot for walking. For the water, I am using an Aulie 802 Nylon knee which I lock in the straight position while windsurfing. My roller skating leg is similar to my walker except that it's dedicated to the skate right now. Oh, and I always carry a can of WD-40 in my truck.

This is what I look like when I go out to play.

Photo by Alan Bernau, Buckroe Beach, Virginia 2006

Locking my knee before I hit the water. Photo by Alan Bernau, Buckroe Beach, Virginia 2006

Photo by Dean Norris, Columbia River Gorge 2000

Photo by Ann Minehart, Windsurfing Hatteras, Avon, NC circa 1994

Video by Javier Garriz, Strawberry Banks, VA circa 1994

Self portrait circa 1994

Photo by Addrienne, Windfest 2003, Frisco, NC

Autograph by Robby Naish. It reads "Rip it up" Robby Naish US1111 (I have since retired this leg)

The leg on the left was my last one while the one on the right is my latest. Just the top frame was replaced. In the one on the left, I've removed the foot shell so you can see the carbon foot.

And this is the leg I use for windsurfing. It's simple, relatively inexpensive, and easy to swap out with my every day walker, and stands up to the sand and salt water. It uses a simple pin to lock the knee when needed. The Ferrier Coupler allows me to swap it out in just seconds.

You can also check out my snowboarding photos and roller skating photos

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