Rediscovering Competitive Sports after Amputation
Written By: Sue Henneberry
Sports have always been an important part of my life. Both of my parents were Physical Education Teachers. I grew up playing wiffle ball and football in the yard with my family. I was a gymnast, cheerleader, and runner. I played on my high school volleyball and softball teams. Life without sports was unimaginable.
I considered myself able-bodied before I chose to have my leg amputated in August of 2022, but in many ways, I was more disabled when that leg was still a part of me. I spent 10 years on crutches and underwent back-to-back surgeries and procedures trying to save a leg that had endured a 15-year battle with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. Losing my leg became my best option for returning to a healthy and athletic life.
Two weeks before the surgery to amputate my leg, I met with Sportable athlete Robin Yoder, an amputee herself, a mentor, and an all-around awesome person. She talked me through what amputation would be like. We discussed mental health, phantom pain, stump care, and the stares that would become a part of my world. But we also talked about strength, empowerment, and opportunities. We discussed returning to sports with Sportable. It was hard to imagine, but just five months later, I was ready to try sports again.
Robin invited me to join her for Sportable pickleball in January of 2023. I was so nervous when I showed up for the first practice. I was still walking with my prosthetic, but trying a quick movement sport like pickleball was intimidating. However, everyone was so welcoming. I got out there and started playing. As a new amputee, I loved being in an environment where people didn’t stare at me. I could laugh and joke about what I was going through because everyone there was going through something else as well. I was hooked.
I rarely missed practice and found opportunities to play on additional days of the week. Just four months later, my doubles partner, Will, and I won a gold medal in the Virginia Pickleball Classic’s Parapickleball Division. My Sportable friends and coaches were there celebrating with me, and it felt amazing. That’s when I knew my years as a competitive athlete were far from over.
Before I lost my leg and became a Sportable athlete, I was a Sportable volunteer. My ex-husband is Sportable’s wheelchair lacrosse coach, and I enjoyed watching the practices and games. I missed being a part of sports because of my leg, and I realized I could help with Sportable rowing. After the amputation and trying pickleball, I started rowing as a full-fledged Sportable athlete. In August of 2023, I won a silver medal in pairs rowing at the BAYADA Regatta, the nation’s largest and oldest all-adaptive rowing competition.
These sports were followed by road racing, rock climbing, and biking with Sportable. I ran the Monument Avenue 10K with Sportable. My goal was to run it in under an hour, and I did it!
I have skyrocketed as an athlete in the last eight months. My physical therapists have said they have never seen anyone progress as fast as I have. I credit a lot of that to Sportable. You use so much forward and backward movement in these sports, which has increased my agility and made my gait feel natural. Moreover, Sportable has helped me with my confidence. The mental game is at times even harder than the physical.
With my one-year amputation anniversary approaching, I decided it was time to fulfill a dream that had been taken from me twice—a Spartan race—a 10K with 25 obstacles. I had always loved doing fun runs before CRPS took that from me. Twice before my amputation, I had tickets to run the Spartan, but had to give them away due to my leg. Now I plan to run it as an amputee and have no intention of giving my ticket away this time.
Even better, I will be running the Spartan and raising money for Sportable—the organization that has given me so much. Everything is more beautiful because I have had to work to get there. Sportable has helped me gain strength and muscle that I had lost over 10 years. Sportable makes this moment possible.
I will run the Spartan race on September 16 at the Maryland Raceway with a group of great friends, Sue’s Spartans. And the next day, I am throwing a Sportable “Tail”gate at my favorite dog park with my dog-loving friends and, of course, my dog and running buddy, Miller.
My disability was never going to outweigh my ability. My abilities are different than what they used to be, and I’ve got to be OK with that. But where I am now is GREAT. Sportable helped me get there.