With visions of ostrich feathers and high heels fading on the sidewalk next to her blown-off leg, the ballroom dancer whose dream of being the next Ginger Rogers was jolted back to determination when a doctor told her he’d never seen an amputee dance.
He wasn’t her doctor, but he watched Adrianne Haslet’s interview with Anderson Cooper just days after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and heard her say she wanted to dance again. She had heard the first explosion and was right next to the second.
“A doctor who was not my doctor came into my room and said, ‘I saw your interview with Anderson Cooper and I saw you wanted to dance again and I just wanted to let you know I’ve been here for 20 years and I’ve never seen an amputee dance so you shouldn’t have hope,’” Haslet said.
Haslet may accept the disapproving reaction from her audience but she doesn’t allow any pity to collect, instead turning to her disarming charm and humor and as she tells how she responded.
First with defiance.
“I raised my finger in the air and said, ‘If my chances are one in a million I will be that one,’” she said.
Then she paints the picture for the audience about how this was the first time she willingly got into her wheelchair, and didn’t really know how to maneuver the wheelchair, but wanted to huff off away from this doctor.
“Then I turned my chair around, and you know when you’re looking for that slamming of the door and you get the soft-close cupboard? And I turned around in my wheelchair, and I was not coordinated in my chair – here’s that fun fact, ballroom dancers are uncoordinated off the ballroom floor,” she said adding that there was no easy and clear exit where she could march – or roll – out of. She turned once and the bed was blocking her, another direction and another obstruction.
So shifting her chair back and forth and going nowhere she turned her head and angrily told the doctor, “Leave.” Her animated storytelling manner inviting laughter from attendees.
Her dream to be a ballroom dancer had already been achieved but she wanted it to continue, and it may have been snatched away when she lost her left leg below the knee. She knew she wanted to return to the dance floor. She was determined to do so.
Dreams are just that “unless you tell someone” and then it becomes a goal, she said.
“That was a huge lesson I had to learn. I wanted to tell a lot of people that I wanted to dance again, and somehow because of Vicodin and morphine and never” having broken a bone and “knowing what I was like on those” medications, “I apparently said I was going to run the Boston Marathon, because apparently I love running,” Haslet said.
She wasn’t a runner. She likened the amount of time a champion marathoner could finish 26.2 miles to the amount of time it took her to get ready for a ballroom dance performance.
But commit she did. If you speak your dreams aloud they become goals, and your support system is there to help you fulfill those dreams and goals, she said.
When she returned to the dance floor her support system said great, now you know what’s next – the marathon.
In the back of a closet sat a dusty prosthetic running leg blade, something she was considering donating. But she decided to take it for a run around the block, she said.
The blade is designed for forward motion and without a lot of experience with it, consequently she fell – a lot. She said she donned a helmet and elbow pads, and the helmet needed a bill to protect her face as she was flung forward by the motion of the blade, though it is unclear if she was painting the picture for comic relief or a way to soften the hard reality.
But she was undeterred.
Likening it to a toddler learning to first walk who falls over and over again, a child continues to get up and try again, she said.
‘The thing is when we’re learning how to walk, when we’re really, really little, and we fall we don’t say ‘oh I don’t think I’ll try that again,’ but you walk, stumble and fall and ‘get up and try again.’”
“As a ballroom dancer I thought ‘I can do this, this is muscle memory,’” Haslet said.
After a period of time she realized she had worked her way up to running 10 miles at a time and that’s when she knew she was really going to do it.
But complications with the prosthetic set in during the marathon, and the heat she had never run in before got to her, and she spent a good deal of time in a medical tent getting attention and trying to fix the fit of the leg. Eventually settling on a fit that she said was basically like running on your “knuckles” from about the 14.7 mark to the 26.2 mark, she “finished last.”
“What gets you to the finish line is nothing compared to what will get you to that start line,” she said. “It’s amazing to be part of something that is a community of supporters along the way even if you come in last. Also I did it to prove you don’t have to be perfect. My life changed in 3.5 seconds. I didn’t know that I had bumped shoulder to shoulder with the terrorist.
“You can change someone’s life in 3.5 seconds. Thank you so much for having me and I want you to make every second count, because believe me they do,” she said as she concluded her talk.Read the full article in the Napa Valley Register here.