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Goals help them heal

They've cycled from California, this group of amputees, encouraging others along the way.

Published July 28, 2006

LARGO - For Joe Sapere, it was a photo collage.

Staring at images of sky divers was the motivation Sapere needed after losing his leg in a skydiving accident in 2000.

After 10 months, Sapere was ready to sky-dive again.

"It is important to have goals to help heal," Sapere said.

In 2002, Sapere founded Amputees Across America, a bicycling group, to demonstrate that life can get better despite amputation.

On Thursday morning, Sapere and fellow rider Gary Summers met more than 100 guests at HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital in Largo as part of the group's 3,500-mile transcontinental tour. The ride started in Tustin, Calif., and will end in Vero Beach on Monday after more than 30 stops along the way.

Mayor Pat Gerard declared it was Amputees Across America Day to Sapere, Summers and a cheering crowd that included the Suncoast Riders, a bicycling group that joined Sapere and Summers for the local part of their journey.

Local amputees also shared their hardships and success stories at the event.

Sally Lucia will never take for granted the delight that can be provided by crunchy peanut butter smothered with grape jelly and patted between two slices of bread.

For Lucia, 46, being able to make lunch for her son Ross, 8, was one of her first goals she accomplished after complications from a routine surgery left her a quadrilateral amputee in 2001.

In a span of four months that included 16 surgeries, Lucia had her legs removed above the knee and also lost her fingers.

She has adapted to her life with the help of what she calls her lifeline, a quarter of her thumb and one-third of her index finger, which remain on her left hand.

"They call it a pincher," Lucia said.

Lucia told the crowd that comedy is a way to get over some of the hardships.

Although she has adjusted to losing her limbs, she is constantly reminded of the difference.

"You can't even get out of bed until you get your legs on," Lucia said.

Brad Kendell, 25, can relate. Kendell works full time and likes to travel and go boating.

"I am trying to get back to everything I used to know," Kendell told the crowd.

Kendell survived a 2003 plane crash that killed his father, Bruce, and friend Daniel Griffith Jr. His twin-engine Navajo airplane hit a wind shear that sent the plane into a nose dive 1,500 feet from the runway at the Clearwater Airpark. Kendell lost both his legs and was severely burned in the accident.

"I got a hand cycle, so I might be going across the U.S. myself," Kendell said.

Some amputees attending the event also found motivation.

The last time Lisa Fortney, 33, walked was five years ago. And the last time she walked without the use of prosthetic legs was more than 14 years ago.

Fortney is a hairstylist who lost her left leg when she was 18.

Fortney had used a prosthetic leg, but said the device caused her tremendous pain. With recent technological advances in prosthetics, Fortney is ready to be fitted for a new leg.

"I am getting ready to start walking again," she said. "It's going to be a challenge."

Fortney told Summers her motivation.

"I want to ride a Harley."

[Last modified July 27, 2006, 23:07:01]

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