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Archive for the ‘prosthetics’ Category

The Most EXCITING News Ever!!!

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

So I’m back here in Jeju for Ironman Korea, and this will be my last race as a full-fledged teamTBB athlete.

Because here’s the big exciting news: I’ve found my dream job.

Over the last month I’ve made some pretty big decisions–stepping back to evaluate where I am in my life and where I want to go from here. I was 25 years old when I got in touch with the head honchos of the then-obscure teamTBB. In an email dated May 7, 2007, a certain Brett Sutton wrote me: “I can advise you 24 becomes 27 in a flash of light, 27 becomes 30 in an even quicker motion…” Yep, in a flash of light I will be turning 30 at the end of the year.

“Wait a sec, Wongstar,” you say. “Don’t you already have your dream job? Being a full-time pro triathlete, traveling the world racing as a triathlon superstar? Aren’t you already living the dream?”

Well, no. I’ve come to realize that being a full-time professional triathlete was never my end goal. I had very modest goals back in 2007 (one of them simply to qualify for my pro card). Each and every one of them has been surpassed…and earlier than any of us ever expected. But people wonder what happened at IMTX last month. What happened? I realized I was done with “living the dream”. Because “living the dream” meant living on the edge of poverty, living out of a suitcase and choking in the swim from the sheer financial stress of it all…

If there’s one thing that I’ve had that my TBB teammates don’t (ok, besides my disarmingly good looks, witty personality, and the will to shamelessly market myself), it’s nearly $100k in student loans hanging over my head since finishing school. Did you know that Sallie Mae only allows you an “economic hardship” deferment for 3 years? Well, those 3 years are up next month. Flash of light and all. The debt was easy to ignore at the beginning but the financial strain took its toll in more recent races. I just couldn’t enjoy competing without worrying about money any more.

And funny thing with life–all kinds of opportunities began to line up and the timing presented itself perfectly.

Those of you who have followed me know that I am also a certified prosthetist-orthotist (I actually received both my certification and pro card at the same time in the summer of 2009) and put that career on hold while traveling with the team. Living out of your suitcase, couch-surfing, and changing your address every 2-3 months isn’t exactly conducive to providing long-term care for patients. Prosthetics & Orthotics is a career path I’m also very passionate about and I’ve missed working in that field.

Although I was able to help out on some medical missions during training camps in Southeast Asia, working with prosthetic patients isn’t as simple as just giving someone a leg and never seeing them again. I’d been kicking around the idea of going back to work for a while, and actually got a couple leads while I was at the Challenged Athletes run clinic earlier this month.

So…one thing lead to another, and I’ve decided to begin a brand new job as a CPO at a great P&O practice in Wilmington the following week and I could not be any more excited. Not only will I get a big-girl salary with benefits (!!!), I’ll get to work with all kinds of patients and help put on sports clinics for them. They also have a budding relationship with the University of Delaware, which has something like 7 gait analysis labs, if I want to dabble in some fun nerdy biomechanics research again. One of my dreams (I’m allowed to have many) is to go to the Paralympics as a prosthetist for Team USA some day.

Well before you think this is the end of the Wongstar, pro triathlon superstar, I’m not done yet. Our very own Rebecca Preston has taken over my coaching the last few weeks and is my new “boss” as I transition from being a full-time teamTBB athlete to one of the online-coached athletes. I still plan to race as a pro while juggling working an almost-full-time position–I’ll be working 4 full days a week as my future employer is also super supportive of that part of my life. (Dream job, right?!) I absolutely love both careers and the idea of being able to do both gets me really, really excited.

In my heart I’ve always wanted to figure out a way how to do both–work as a CPO while racing as a pro–and here I’ve found the perfect opportunity staring at me straight in the face. I’ve always seen teamTBB as a stepping stone to where I want to go, and the last 4 years training with Brett and alongside all these Ironman champions have provided me the best education possible in what it takes to succeed in triathlon. I’d always joked that it was like Sutto’s Triathlon Academy, but in the end, it’s no joke at all.

I came onto the team having never used my passport, never qualifying for Kona as an age grouper–my best time was 12:08…best IM bike was a 6:12 and my marathon was a 4:20. I ended up getting pages added to my passport and demolished all my Ironman splits. Nobody knew who I was 4 years ago and now countless random strangers yell “Wongstar” at every race I go to, write me fan letters, and jump to my defense if any internet trolls bash my swimming ability.

So thank you teamTBB–Alex and Brett–for giving me the opportunity of a lifetime.

And now I’m saying good-bye to living THE dream and hello to living MY dream. The real adventure has only just begun…watch this space for more developments soon. :D

CAF/Ossur amputee run clinic

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

This is kind of old news but in case you hadn’t heard, I was profiled in the May issue of Triathlete Magazine! I was pretty excited last month when I finally saw a paper copy of my interview at the Bike Boutique:

I'm in a magazine!

It was my first big interview with a tri magazine so I was pretty stoked. Here is a digital copy of it (click on it to make it bigger):

It’s about my other career as a certified prosthetist and involvement with teamTBB, and a bit about the work I did at several prosthetics clinics in Thailand and the Philippines while I was at training camps. I’ve missed working in this field and so last weekend took a little trip up to NYC (site of the just-announced US Pro Ironman Championships next year!). The Challenged Athletes Foundation and Ossur (the prosthetic foot company that makes those cool carbon fiber sprinting legs) were sponsoring a running clinic for lower-limb amputees so I thought I’d go check it out.

It also gave me the chance to catch up with Carolina, my best friend from when we lived in Dallas. We were both a little miserable there but managed to escape. ;) Here we are in a clash of outfits as she was heading off to watch a polo match while I went off to the run clinic!

Twinkie & Brownie reunion!

At the run clinic, I got to catch up with some familiar faces: Dr. Bob Gailey who wrote a bunch of chapters in our prosthetics textbooks, Peter Harsch who is also a certified prosthetist and an accomplished age grouper Ironman athlete, and Sarah Reinertsen who I met back in 2004 before I headed off to grad school (first woman to do Kona with a prosthetic leg). If you watched The Amazing Race on TV back in 2006, you might recall that Peter & Sarah competed on a team together!

the advanced group doing some run drills

It was so cool! There were about 5 little kids, 10 adults who wanted to try running for the very first time, and another 10 adults who were very active and put in the “advanced group”.

magic running legs

I got to help Peter run the advanced group and give them some of my best running tips. I even told them about my magic running sticks. ;) At the end, all the groups got together to do a relay race on an obstacle course!

Kaela just received her first running leg from CAF

There were plenty of photo ops with CAF celebrities. Always an inspiration!

Kaela & family with Sarah

I plan to head back up to NYC on August 7th as the NYC Triathlon will be hosting the Paratriathlon National Championships!

Prostheses Foundation mobile clinic adventure

Saturday, March 27th, 2010

I just got back from an entire week away from training camp and even more impressive, without my daily internet addiction. No Facebook, Twitter, email, teamTBB forum, blogging, blog reading, or Skyping… and I survived and it was totally worth it! ;)

yeah, I cant read it either.

yeah, I can't read it either.

Where did I go? Off to Nakhon Si Thammarat, the province northeast of Krabi and a 3-hour bus ride away. This would be the other half of “living the Wongstar dream”–yes my teammates and I are all “living the dream” but mine is a little different. I’m trying to become the best athlete I can be while also helping out with making prosthetic legs when and where I can in the different countries we go to, and learn more about prosthetic healthcare internationally.

seriously, thats a lot of prosthetic legs.

seriously, that's a lot of prosthetic legs.

The Prostheses Foundation provides prosthetic legs for amputees all over Thailand who cannot afford them (and also in the neighboring countries of Laos, Malaysia and Burma…and yes I still call it Burma as my mom was born and raised there). The foundation is based in Chiang Mai but has a “mobile clinic” that visits various regions of Thailand about 5 or 6 times per year. Kind of like going on tour with a rock band!

making life better, one leg at a time!

making life better, one leg at a time!

I was very lucky that they were coming somewhere relatively close to Krabi while I am still here, and that it didn’t fall during a race! So with Coach’s permission I took off and am so happy I did. What an incredible experience! I had no idea what a big endeavor this mobile clinic was until I got there last Sunday.

organized chaos

organized chaos

There were over 60 volunteer technicians and prosthetists from all over Thailand that came to make 186 prosthetic legs for the 168 patients that came from the southern provinces. The 186 legs were made from start to finish in only 4 days–which is just absolutely unheard of. Even at home in the USA it would take at least a week to make one from start to finish. And to make almost 200 legs?! It was just AMAZING.  It still blows my mind how incredible this whole thing is, and how well it works.

measurement forms, look the same in every country

measurement forms, look the same in every country

I will do a more thorough write-up soon but here are some photos from the latest prosthetic adventure!

bench alignment

bench alignment

we worked 7am til past 8 or 9pm every day

we worked 7am til past 8 or 9pm every day

using the Sand Casting technique

using the "Sand Casting" technique

the cosmetic covers

the cosmetic covers

this cute 2yo boy was everyones favorite!

this cute 2yo boy was everyone's favorite!

testing out the new legs

first steps! testing out the new legs

one of my patients during the final fitting

one of my patients during the final fitting

with the other volunteers (and new friends!) at the Thank You party

with the other volunteers (and new friends!) at the "Thank You" party

Wheres Wongstar?  hiding behind the legs!

Where's Wongstar? hiding behind the legs!

Tigaon Mission Report

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

Feb 4-7, 2009

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Less than 48 hours after landing in Manila from San Francisco, I was back at the airport for a short 45-minute flight to Naga in the Camarines Sur province. (I didn’t know until 2 weeks later that this is also where the inaugural Philippines 70.3 triathlon is going to be held in August.) It was a very bumpy flight on a small plane but I just held my breath and pretended I was at an amusement park. Although I find some roller coasters to be terrifying so I don’t know where that logic came from.

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It was my first overnight mission with Physicians for Peace (PFP) and I wasn’t sure what to expect. When I was here last September & October, I helped out with some of the one-day missions to Pampanga province (no Manny, not “Panga-panga!”). I learned that every mission is different, regarding where we stay and where we see the patients. We drove out to the small town of Tigaon and stayed in a dormitory-style government building complete with bunk beds. It was like going to summer camp! I roomed with the optometrists but there were also many American dentists from Virginia Beach and some surgeons as well.

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Our first day, Wednesday, was kind of a “settling-in day” so they took us on a short boat ride to a little island, where I got in an open water swim (yay) and we all had fresh coconut juice right off the trees. There happened to be a random guy walking around the island with a wooden leg he had fashioned himself! He did not know about the mission and definitely needed something that fit better, so he was happily recruited for a new prosthetic fitting and would be our first patient the next morning.

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Later that night we were taken to the outdoor sports complex, where we would be evaluating and casting our patients. It was like an outdoor gymnasium with a basketball court, bleachers, and an auditorium stage. The locals were playing a game of pick-up basketball while a mass of bats were flying around the ceiling and screeching. I found the bats to be a bit unnerving but nobody else seemed fazed! We had dinner with the mayor of Tigaon, Mayor Fuentebella, who would host us for all our dinners at his family’s swanky house. He asked how tall I was and was so impressed (I’m easily taller than the average Filipino male) that he said I should do beauty pangeants. When I stopped laughing, I realized he was actually be serious…but he’s a politician so who can be sure? I didn’t tell him about the time I entered the Miss Asian Atlanta “scholarship pageant” when I was in grad school, but that’s another story.

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The next morning we headed over to the sports complex. It was divided into three sections, not unlike a three-ring circus, where about half of the space went to the dentists performing tooth extractions (I think they saw over 200 patients in 3 days), the optometrists performed eye exams and gave out eyeglasses, and we in the prosthetics section evaluated amputees and casted their limbs for new prosthetic legs. Many patients were already waiting and had filled up the bleachers.

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Notable patients included:

Our friend from the beach. I didn’t get a good photo of his wooden leg unfortunately.

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However there was this one fellow who made his own prosthesis out of metal (maybe part of a coffee can?), rubber, and string for suspension.

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I helped cast this girl who had outgrown her previous prosthesis. She had to miss a day of school but hopefully it was well worth it!

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Then there was this young woman who at 21 years of age had been born with clubfeet on both sides and has literally been walking on the tops of her feet her whole life. Since your feet aren’t designed to bear weight on this side, she had developed a pretty bad ulcer on the right foot. Physicians for Peace will be “adopting” her and sponsor her surgeries–she will mostly have both of her feet amputated and be fitted with bilateral prosthetic legs, which will allow her to actually be a much more functional and pain-free walker.

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The prostheses will be fabricated in the Manila PGH clinic since there isn’t a lab in the Bicol area. The technicians will either return to deliver and fit the legs, or more likely, PFP may sponsor the patients to fly into Manila to be fit and then given physical therapy to help learn to walk with their new legs.

Project Wongstar: A Reintroduction of Sorts

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

arms

Before I launch into a full report on the two prosthetic missions I did this month, I thought I might reintroduce myself as we’ve got new teammates and new sponsors (and potential sponsors always!) and my most favorite, new blog fans. I know that what I do is a little…weird? different? unusual? unique? so it’s always good to have a re-explanation.

Obviously I’m not phenomenally talented, especially when training in a group with all these Ironman champions–speed is relative and here I’m the dreaded S word…S-L-O-W. I’ve been doing triathlons since 2000 and if you just glance through my teammates’ profiles you can see that many have been racing PRO since 2000. I can’t even call myself one of those shitty American pros because I have yet to qualify for my USAT pro license, plus it has come into question whether I am even American or not. Yes, my passport tells me I am, but the other day Coach said something offhand about how there are no American girls on the team–what am I then, some bastard child from an imaginary country? Now, knowing Coach’s high opinion of Americans (did you catch the sarcasm?) I wasn’t sure if I should be offended or feel well, flattered. HA!! That tricky Coach and his Jedi mind tricks.

So realizing after college that the whole pro triathlete fantasy was a bit of a stretch, I decided to pursue…a real job. I went to grad school for prosthetics and orthotics (P&O), and am now what you call a prosthetist-orthotist. And yes, I realize that prosthetist sounds very similar to another 3-syllable “profession” that starts with “p-r-o-s-t-” and has 3 T’s in it. Honestly it must have been some horrible joke made by the founding fathers of our male-dominated field that just stuck. I took the last of my board exams last month and when I get my passing scores back I’ll be a CPO (certified prosthetist-orthotist). We’re considered practitioners but we’re not doctors; we don’t do surgery or diagnose illnesses. Prosthetics involves designing, fabricating, and fitting artificial legs and arms, and orthotics aren’t just custom insoles–they also include leg braces, spinal braces for scoliosis, neck braces and custom “helmets” for babies born with funny-shaped heads. The most invasive thing we do is fit halos–remember in the movie Mean Girls when what’s-her-name gets hit by the school bus and has to wear a halo to prom? Yeah, there are pins that get screwed right into the surface of the skull to help stabilize high-level neck fractures.

I’m partial to the prosthetics side of P&O and you definitely see a lot more of the cool new prosthetic technology in the media and definitely at many triathlons, what with how big the Challenged Athletes Foundation has gotten and so many soldiers coming home with injuries from Iraq and Afghanistan. When I first thought about going into prosthetics, I read about how you can volunteer for the International Red Cross and do missions over in Southeast Asia, especially in places like Cambodia and Vietnam, where there are a lot of people (many of them kids) who have lost arms and legs in landmine accidents. Having never even been abroad until this past year, I definitely wanted to participate in something like this as my family’s roots are in Southeast Asia. Both sets of my grandparents are from the south coast of China (on the mainland but actually quite close to where IM China is held); my mom was born and raised in Burma and my dad was born in China and grew up in Hong Kong.

Along the way, I kept doing triathlon and kept improving rather slowly, but I still haven’t even broken 12 hours in an Ironman or even qualified for Kona as an age grouper. (Technically I am classified as a “development athlete” on the team.) I applied to be on Team TBB back in 2007, not realizing just how big (and fast) this whole thing was going to be (or who the coach even was!), but I figured that the team needed a future Asian Triathlon Superstar if they were based in Asia. My one condition (and who was I to demand any conditions?) was that I needed to first go through my last year of my prosthetics residency so I could take my board exams, so I could then do some prosthetic missions around Southeast Asia.

So now…here I am. Project Wongstar consists of me going around Southeast Asia to help make and fit prosthetic limbs (legs mostly, but maybe an arm or two for the guy pictured above). On the athletic side, Project Wongstar involves seeing just how fast Coach and the team can get me, from being an age-grouper nobody to a professional somebody someday. I am definitely a work in progress but one of my favorite quotes is “Hard work closes the gap to the more talented.” So my plan is to work harder and become mentally tougher than everybody else, because I’m really not giving Coach much to start off with. ;)

For more info on the field of prosthetics and orthotics, you can check out these links:
www.opcareers.org
www.oandp.com

Valentine’s Date with Training Camp

Sunday, February 15th, 2009

jo-donalds

The morning of Valentine’s Day I packed up my many things and said goodbye to Casa Concepcion in Manila, making my way up to Subic Bay (at last!) for a date with Coach and my many new teammates. Wow our team is big! I missed half of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre but got in the second half that ran well into the evening. There are over 20 bikes that are lined up against the bleachers when we’re running our laps. Pretty cool! The atmosphere is extremely motivating. I’m living with Caroline (aka “Battery” or “Miss South Africa”) and Angela (“Miss Avia”) and we actually have a REAL kitchen and REAL refrigerator. I know, so exciting (!!!) after living out of the hotel and “secretly” cooking in the bathroom. And now I can actually buy raw meat and it won’t go bad after one day in the mini-bar. Of course after 2 weeks of less-than-ideal training and doing half of a Valentine’s massacre, I was tired enough last night that I pulled a Donna and had cereal for dinner.

This afternoon we had a team bonding experience over at Frank’s place, Playa Papagayo, just a short jeepney ride outside of the base. But first I went over on a little trip to Clark (the former US Air Force Base, about a 40-min drive out of Subic). They’ve just opened up a new prosthetics center at Clark Polytechnic and invited me over for the grand opening ceremony. I’m gonna have to arrange to head over there sometime to work on the arm patient we casted in Zamboanga. I was under the impression that they just “don’t do arms” here in the Philippines but oh lucky day, here is a prosthetist from America that just happens to be here… so this guy is my “special project.” I will get pictures posted up from the two missions after I get them uploaded.

In the meantime I will leave you with How to Become an Asian Triathlon Superstar, Step #12: Get comfortable in front of the camera. Someday soon when I’m an international hotshot and the magazines all come calling with their fancy cameras, it will be important that I can take pictures without grimacing when I try to smile (like that episode of Friends with Chandler hahahahahaha). So I did some practicing on my last mission…as you can see, it’s not all work and no fun! I couldn’t help myself…and no, it wasn’t Disneyland, it was the Governor’s Provincial Guest House. Which happened to have just absolutely fabulous lawn decor. The cast of Disney characters were practically begging for a photoshoot with the Wongstar. and if you don’t know me very well, this gives you a glimpse into the Wongstar personality. Enjoy!

jo-pinocchio

jo-pooh jo-tigger jo-eeyore jo-woody jo-woody jo-alien jo-mickeys

Zamboanga!

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

another day, another one of the Philippine islands to explore…

I flew into Dipolog City around lunch time and they put us straight to work right away! It’s my second mission this year with Physicians for Peace (well yeah this month actually). Dipolog is in the province of Zamboanga Del Norte, or “ZaNorte” for short (cute huh? like Brangelina), in the Mindanao region of the southern Philippines.

zanorte

<dipoog-map

so here I am, just another short update as I am on a wifi connection that actually lets me access the TBB site! if anyone was wondering why I have not updated or went MIA on the team forum…it’s cuz I was having connection problems on my wifi network in Manila. argh! I have a bunch of pictures to post from the Tigaon mission and then will also fill you in on the one here. it was pretty darn busy today.

Training is a little wacko and I’m antsy to finally get up to Subic this coming weekend. I haven’t been in a proper swimming pool since arriving in this country over a week ago, although mini ocean dips have been nice. We saw most of our patients (if not all of them) today so I will actually have time these next couple days to go on some longer runs and longer ocean swims. Last Sunday I went on a 5.5-hour group ride in Manila with the Fitness First cycling boys which was a crazy adventure and deserves its own blog entry. Running consists of doing neighborhood laps around San Juan or hitting the track at the Ultra Sports Complex.

anyway this time they actually put us in a hotel with WIFI…so expect more blogging. hooray!

back to work so soon?!

Saturday, November 15th, 2008

jo-with-legs

hey guys, well I just completed my first work week since returning home 9 days ago. It’s great to be home again…I already ate the two things I was craving while in the Philippines: 1) fresh strawberries and 2) guacamole (in a steak fajita burrito from Chipotle MMM!). I thought driving here would be strange after not driving for two months, but it’s actually quite easy as people tend to stay in their proper lanes and not make their own. The price of gas (or “petrol” haha) actually went DOWN $2 per gallon while I was gone, which is insane, as the cheapest here is only $2.24/gallon. That’s the cheapest it’s been in years!!

I got over the jet lag pretty quick sleep-wise, except I was kind of constipated in the mornings the first week (TMI??). Also it is now reverse culture shock: I am blown away by the American portion sizes when eating out, but soon it will seem normal again and I will just have to remember that I don’t have to eat the whole damn meal! It also seems very cold here now that it’s not 90 degrees every day (32C) and super humid. Earlier this week it was in the high 50′s (14-15C) but this weekend is very nice, over 70 (21C). (note: I’m putting both the Celsius and Fahrenheit temps not just for the benefit of international readers but for my own. I vow to be bilingual in temperature language soon.) With the drop in temps I no longer have a strong desire for 7-11 Slurpees, Mini Stop soft-serve ice cream or carbonated beverages. So I haven’t been into a local 7-11 to verify that indeed, the biggest Slurpee size in the Philippines is the smallest size here, or that we have 4-6 different flavor offerings as opposed to just green apple and bubblegum.

I’ve been laying low because my first 2 board exams for prosthetics are next week, so I’ve been studying when not working and training. I’m back at Gary’s office as a part-time orthotist and prosthetics assistant and he has been the coolest boss ever. I’ve got more flexible hours so I can get in my training without sacrificing sleep and get home before it gets dark (around 5pm now). Plus he knows I’ll be back at camp in February, so I’m also “seasonal.” I think my workmates might soon get sick of hearing my stories from the Philippines, though. I miss being at rookie camp so I’m always talking about it here! Seriously, I’m like the girl in American Pie who keeps saying “…and this one time, at band camp…”

anyway, I did promise more pictures and stuff from my work in Manila, but that will have to wait at least another week. It is cram time! The next phase of Project Wongstar is to PASS THE BOARD EXAMS!! The one picture above is just me at the Manila clinic posing with all the legs that were about to be delivered at the 3rd prosthetics mission in Pampanga. Giving out new legs is always my favorite part!

now for…PROSTHETICS boot camp!

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008

it is my last night in Manila as I’ve decided I can proudly return to my home country now that I know who won the presidential election. Otherwise I would have stayed here and found a 5’6″ Pinoy boy as I’m told no guys here are 6’5″…the tall ones are 5’6″. even the basketball players. I’m SERIOUS!!

The past two days have been fun and challenging as I’ve shifted my focus from rookie boot camp in Subic to…prosthetics boot camp in Manila! Pamela is a 20yo patient who needed a hip disarticulation prosthesis…so we were basically given two days to cast, modify, fabricate, fit, and deliver it! She is here in Manila until January for chemotherapy treatments but since I was only here for a few days, they wanted me to lead the project and see the whole thing through. Pretty fun actually, to be team leader and turn around the making of a prosthesis so quickly with all the materials at my disposal and technicians to help out. Actually I don’t think I’ve EVER made a leg this fast, and this was a more complicated case than your average leg amputation!

here are a few pics but there are A TON MORE (well, hundreds) that I will have to upload to a web album, because if there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that Filipinos are VERY CAMERA-HAPPY.

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I was as proud as a mom watching Pamela take her first steps…and she just kept going! We quickly moved from using a walker to crutches, and she just kept going and going! (I know, I said that already.) I was stunned because she had chemo in the morning and was supposedly a little tired. Yes, there was a mixture of pride and relief…I actually *did* learn something in school and residency. (phew!)

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anyway I am happy to be leaving on such a positive note.
Phase One of “Project Wongstar–Philippines” has been a success!
bon voyage!

The Wongstar is born.

Monday, November 3rd, 2008

jeep-ride

    How to Become an Asian Triathlon Superstar, Step #11: Earn yourself a superstar nickname.

    Well it is November 3rd and I left home exactly 2 months ago on September 3rd. It is hard to believe the time has gone by so quickly, it’s almost as if this was a perpetual summer: at home summer ends right after Labor Day (right before I left) and then I headed to a hot humid climate for 2 months of triathlon training with some prosthetics thrown in here and there. It will be almost winter when I get home, although a California winter is pretty different from say, a Switzerland winter. ;) Still, I may just leave all my hot weather clothing here, I *really* don’t want to get dinged with more excess baggage charges!!!

    I was sad to leave Subic yesterday, having bonded with the other rookies, our coach, and everybody else. Rookie Boot Camp was such a big physical (and mental!) test for me. Many of the other rookies came into camp with years of the pro triathlete training lifestyle under their belt, for me it was my first time to focus exclusively on the whole eating, sleeping, and training kind of life. I came into camp a little scared and intimidated. At the end of two weeks I wasn’t sure what I had gotten myself into. At one point, Coach told me “I can see you’re trying very hard, and I’m not sure how much longer you can keep trying.”

    But I persisted. I was not the fastest and definitely not the most talented, but goshdarnit I would be relentless in busting my butt for every swim, bike, and run. As I improved my fitness and technique, slowly I gained more confidence in myself. I stopped being so scared of Coach :) and less concerned with how much everyone else was whupping me in the workouts. I can muscle through the water like a steamboat, grind up the hills in a giant gear, and even run some decent 200′s after being told I have no speed. With my new run technique, I can run 2 hours without any pain after coming into camp with bad shin splints and being only able to run for 10-15 minutes.

    Coach says I still need to work on my discipline and my confidence, but I am confident the confidence will come as I continue to improve athletically. Does that make sense? By the last week I was much less sore and coping better with the unending battery of workouts. I never tried to guess when the next rest day was because I didn’t want to get my hopes up…so I just always assumed there would be another day of grueling workouts. (and I was usually right! haha!) Somehow I managed to avoid the various viruses that began to plague the freshman squad…it must be my Chinese warrior genes. They sure helped me get through my first boot camp!

    In the middle of it all, Coach gave me a new nickname. At first I thought he was calling me The Wongster, but he then clarified that I am THE WONGSTAR! (With his Aussie accent it’s pronounced like “Wongsta”…kind of like “gangsta” for gangsters.) Because I am on the way to becoming an Asian triathlon superstar. We are only on Step #11 though. I don’t know how many steps it will take to get there, but the past 4 weeks have seen a lot of progress and I’m going to do my darndest to keep up the momentum while I am at home, and heading into the next camp in February. It could be 100 steps, it could 500. or more! But I am so happy to have started this journey with the team and see what I can achieve with a lot of hard work, passion, and discipline.

    I am here in Manila until Thursday morning and will be helping out at the PGH prosthetics clinic (Philippines General Hospital) tomorrow. There is a young female patient, 20 years old, with a rare high level amputation due to bone cancer in her femur (the thigh bone). This is the level we call “hip disarticulation” because the entire femur and everything underneath was completely removed. Dr. Bundoc requested that I come by and help teach the technicians how to cast, fabricate, and fit this type of prosthesis, so today I’m studying up extra and have consulted my boss at home for some help. We learned this at school, but were always told it is such a rare case that most people only see it once or twice in their entire careers. Luckily for me, I had a great residency and we actually saw 3 or more patients at this level!

    Unfortunately I’ll miss the next Pampanga mission this coming Saturday (Nov 1st was a holiday here so it was postponed), but in the upcoming months I’ll be better defining what my contribution to the team social projects are in terms of prosthetics work. I have always wanted to go to Vietnam and Cambodia to help provide prostheses to landmine survivors and that is a definite goal. And I know that the better I become as a pro triathlete, the more my profile will be raised and the more people I can help. I think we should call it “Project Wongstar.” ;)