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Pampanga Prosthetics Mission #1

Thursday, September 18th, 2008

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How to Become an Asian Triathlon Superstar, Step #4: have a cause and find out how you can help, wherever you may be in the world.

On about the first Saturday of each month, the technicians and staff from the prosthetics clinic in Manila (University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital) along with some physical therapy students go up to Pampanga to help provide prostheses to the locals who have lost legs through vascular disease/diabetes, accidents, or congenital deficiencies. Pampanga is a province north of Manila that is a 1- to 2-hour drive, depending on the traffic, what time you leave, and how many times you stop along the way. On my third day in Manila, slightly jet-lagged but full of enthusiasm, I met up with the techs at UP-PGH, which is only one of a few prosthetics & orthotics clinics in the country.

There is a joke somewhere about Filipinos not being able to go on a one-hour drive without stopping at least once. I think we stopped about 4 times on this 2-hour drive, to pick up a physical therapist, then to possibly pick up someone else but didn’t, then to a gas station so all 9 of us could go to the bathroom (less than an hour in), and then right before we got to Pampanga there was the requisite stop at Jollibee for lunch. I was just going with the flow but slightly horrified at the lack of urgency! We left almost an hour late as we were running on “Filipino time”…and I had shown up an hour early to make sure I didn’t get lost or left behind. Silly American.

I attended the mission after being put in contact with Dr. Penny Bundoc, who is an orthopaedic surgeon and director of the prosthetics & orthotics department in Manila. I want to maximize my time in the Philippines by learning about the prosthetic care here and how I may be of some help, as I’ll be spending some time at training camps here and don’t intend to let four extra years of very specific higher education go to waste. These monthly missions are funded by Physicians for Peace and the local chapter of Rotary International, which also helped fund the clinic in Manila. Expenses are covered so that the amputees who are residents of the province receive their prostheses at no cost to them.

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Over 30 of these patients showed up to either receive new legs or get cast for them. Those that were cast last month would get to take their new ones home, while those getting cast this month would have their new legs fabricated and fit by the next visit to Pampanga (next month). I was put to work immediately, assigned to cast a few below-knee amputees that were gathered outside. (When casting for an above-knee amputation, you wrap plaster of Paris all the way up your groin and over your butt, so these were done inside for a little more privacy.)

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Since I was doing the first castings out in public view and was also the token American prosthetist who had come from afar, everybody wanted to watch what special casting techniques I might have up my sleeve. And I mean everybody…all the patients, their family members, the Filipino technicians. We were outdoors and I was sweating like mad, from a mixture of the heat, humidity, and all those pairs of eyes watching me! There was even running commentary in Tanglish (Tagalog/English) on my casting technique, where I was from (American? Korean? oh, Chinese! Chinese but American!), and my god, how much I was sweating (should we wipe her sweat or something?)! Whew, was it hot out there or was it just me?? I did make sure to draw a smiley face over the knee cap to help break the ice, a la my residency director and mentor Gary Berke…before he sent me off to the Philippines, he reminded me just to think WWGD–What Would Gary Do?? He would draw a smiley face, that’s what he would do. (Bony landmarks like the patella or “kneecap” and tibia are marked with an indelible pencil that transfer to the inside of the plaster cast.)

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Meanwhile, some of the technicians helped fit the patients casted last month with their new legs. Some of the patients were previous prosthetic users whose current legs no longer fit, while some were brand new patients that had never used a prosthesis before.

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Dr. Bundoc (in yellow) helped educate a new patient and her family on the ins and outs of her new prosthesis:

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Later we were moved inside (which helped decrease my sweat rate significantly), where more castings were done in the room I was assigned to. In the other room, the PT students were helping to teach the patients how to walk. I was pretty intrigued that for the most part, my casting techniques were not all that different from the Filipino methods. Even the prosthetic legs themselves are not so different, other than the materials used for the socket (the custom-made portion which fits onto the patient, made from the cast). However, there was one patient who had been using a wooden leg he had carved himself–pretty impressive and extremely lightweight! I’m not sure how comfortable it was, but he got a new leg to take home that day.

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When all was said and done, there were some happy patients that could walk home, and some others that would get their new legs soon. Here is the awesome team from the UP-PGH clinic that helped make it happen:

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a ton more photos can be found on my web album at:
http://picasaweb.google.com/iwjocelyn/ProstheticsMissionPampanga#

Big thanks to Lhea for taking all these photos!

how & why I’m on the team.

Monday, September 8th, 2008

There has been a lot of curiosity as how I got to be on teamTBB, especially on a certain other forum, and I guess people think if they know how I got in, maybe that will help them get in too. of course it’s done on a case-by-case basis, so this is just my own situation. I crafted out a response that turned out to be quite long (I tried to make it short too!) so figured I might as well post it here too.

I’m not on the team because I am fast. I’m on the team to make a difference in the world and at the same time have the opportunity to pursue my potential in the sport. That sounds cheesy, but it’s true. The team motto is “We make life better, two wheels at a time,” and while a lot of the press we get is because my teammates are so darn fast (quadruple ironman win this weekend!!!) the underlying goal of the team is to help improve the life of others via the sport of triathlon.

I’ve never won my AG in an Ironman or even qualified for Kona…unless you count the time I went 5:44 at Half Vineman, taking 9th in my AG, and found out months later that the Kona slot had rolled down to 12th. My fastest Ironman time is a 12:08, which was good enough at the time to win the Collegiate Ironman Championships in Wisconsin but really nothing phenomenal. It’s my 9th season in triathlon and I’m a decent age grouper. I used to flirt with the possibility of going pro more in the younger years, before the reality of money, time, and genetic talent constraints hit me and I went the safe route.

I found a career path I was just as passionate about as triathlon, the field of prosthetics, where I get to help people who have lost their legs regain the abilities that many of us triathletes take for granted. In fact I first learned about prosthetics the summer I was training for my first Ironman. The juxtaposition of me training for Ironman while meeting people who used prosthetic legs to also bike and run made a deep and lasting impression on me. I still find that being involved in both triathlon and prosthetics strongly complement each other.

I got my foot in the door with teamTBB because I am Asian (Chinese by blood, American by birth). About 1.5yrs ago I saw a post in that other forum announcing this new pro team. I knew some of the pro names as women that had won the very Ironmans I’d done. I was intrigued that they were training in Asia (Thailand at the time), and were sponsored by The Bike Boutique, an Asian bike franchise headquartered in Singapore. They wanted to inspire greater triathlon participation in Asian countries via social development programs and even more impressive, it was part of the pros’ jobs to mentor underprivileged Asian youths. None of the pros were Asian though, and they were scouting Asian athletes.

Something told me to contact them. So I did. I said something like “Well, I am Asian-AMERICAN and living in Texas, I am a top age grouper and one of the fastest Asian-American girls on the triathlon circuit…” The running joke with my friends was that I was competing for the unofficial title of Fastest Asian-American Female Triathlete in the World, which really meant in the USA. Which was pretty easy when I was living in Georgia and Texas, I’d be the only Asian girl on the podium but also the only Asian person in most races. But hey, I’ve improved enough in this past year that I was still top Asian girl in all my races the past couple seasons even back in California and at Ironman China. Not that anyone keeps tabs on this. :)

They asked for a race resume and more information about myself, not just as an athlete but as a person. There was a very intense email exchange with Brett (our coach) to determine if I had what it took to be on the team. I didn’t realize that I was being interviewed to become a development member on the squad and train with them full-time. I had been on smaller sponsored teams like Amino Vital which just gave you free product and a uniform to race in and thought hey, maybe I can score a heavily discounted bike or something. Brett said it didn’t matter what my current ability was, which was good because I was sure I wasn’t fast enough.

In the end, it wasn’t even my race results or ethnicity that got me on the team. It was my involvement with prosthetics. Since I became interested in the field at age 20, one part that drew me in was learning about humanitarian work being done in landmine inflicted countries such as Vietnam and Cambodia. There was a program with the International Red Cross, but you had to be 25 years old with 3 years of experience. Turning 25 seemed so far away, but I knew this was something I wanted to do, go to Asia and help people walk again. I was born and raised in the States and had never even been overseas until I did IM China in April, so I thought this would give me a chance to see the world and make a difference. I really wanted to go to Asia as that is where my family is from. 5 years would give me time to actually go to school for prosthetics (2 years at the master’s level) and do my 2 years of residency. I made a proposal to Brett and Alex (our team manager)–let me finish my prosthetic residency first, and then when I am at training camp in Asia, I want to do some prosthetic work there with the local clinics. Social responsibility is a big part of the team mission, so here I am.

I have a dual purpose for being on the team…one is selfish, to try to become the best triathlete I can be, but the other is to use the opportunities I receive from this selfish sport and to help others become active and able again. Right now I am only doing prosthetic work in the Philippines but have goals to also do missions in Vietnam and Cambodia. Even bigger long-term goals include starting up something like a version of the Challenged Athletes Foundation here, doing some how-to clinics for disabled athletes, and recruiting local amputees and training them for the Paralympics.

Funding of course is always a problem, for both the projects I want to do and just for getting myself out here, so my ears are open to anyone with ideas on this. This is why it is also important to became as fast of a triathlete as I can be. Brett and Alex say that the more successful I can get at this sport, the more people I can help.

this can also be considered as step #0 of my series on How to Become an Asian Triathlon Superstar: get yourself a spot on the best triathlon team in the world. :)

Laborous Weekend

Wednesday, September 5th, 2007

Labor Day: a national holiday to celebrate us Americans working too hard (?!). unlike most Americans, I actually quite enjoy my work in prosthetics these days (it’s been one month into my residency) and my boss and I have enough fun at work that the lines of work and play can become blurred. Of course there are the days when we have some difficult (and/or rude) patients, but more often than not many of the prosthetic patients are a pleasure to work with. Just last week we had a young man getting ready to go to college next week, another boy who just started his senior year in high school (after missing some school last year due to his battle with bone cancer), and an older gentleman who kept reminding us that road biking was extremely important to him. We’re working on making him a cycling-specific prosthesis. Too cool!!

and in my other life, triathlon is play, but again, the terms play and work are intertwined. (and will be more so once my triathlon career takes off!) I spent Labor Day weekend the best way possible, training my butt off (it’s considered labor, isn’t it?) and enjoying every moment. Saturday I logged my longest run yet this season, 2:15 on the Bay Trail, which runs from the SFO airport right along the bay. I made it to Foster City before turning around, just plugged myself into the ipod and kept going! I went with my childhood friend Louisa who is training for her first marathon, and afterwards we headed to the closest Jamba Juice for some post-run smoothies. We accidentally stumbled upon the Millbrae Art & Wine Festival–the street fair had engulfed the entire plaza, so there was no way we could have missed it. We ended up signing up for a free spinal exam from a hot young chiropractor (I was only interested in the drawing for a free massage until I realized which person in the booth was the chiropractor…), checked out the art, bought some Coke can airplanes, and chowed down on garlic fries. mmm!

Sunday I rode with some new tri friends, nearly 5 hours on a hilly route by the coast with 6,000 feet of climbing. All roads I had done before, but probably not in over 4 years! Old La Honda, Tunitas Creek…it’s amazing how many great rides are right in my own backyard with beautiful views of beaches and mountains. Then I visited Zoom Multisports in San Francisco to rent a
new triathlon wetsuit for my half iron next weekend. I got the Zoot-TWO Wetzoot, which is Zoot’s entry level full suit but already feels so much nicer than my old original Orca Predator (top of the line 8 years ago) and my crappy used sleeveless I bought off ebay for $38. amazing how wetsuit technology has advanced.

I got to try out the wetsuit on Monday (our actual “Labor Day”) when I went with friends to Santa Cruz to preview the course for the Big Kahuna half ironman. I did a 90min long run on the run course which goes right along the beach, and got a little lost near the turn-around, when I came face-to-face with what looked like a big T-Rex skeleton with a funny-shaped head and no legs. Turns out I had accidentally ran into the University of Santa Cruz Marine Lab and it was the skeleton of a blue whale!!

that's no legless dinosaur, it's a blue whale!

We were primarily in Santa Cruz to be support crew for my friend Michele, who is training for both the Catalina Channel swim (20+ miles solo, no wetsuit!) and Ultraman. She was doing a 5-hour ocean swim, each hour covering about two miles. Tanja swam the first hour with her while I was running, then I joined Michele for the third hour. The wetsuit felt great–the water was choppy and extra salty, but really, there wasn’t much to complain about when I was in a full wetsuit and Michele was on her third hour in no wetsuit. As we exited, she told us she was only good for one more hour…but as it was our job to make sure she got in her solid five hours of swimming, I said the first thing that came out of my mouth, “if you do this fourth hour by yourself, I will swim the fifth hour with you!”

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so that is how I ended up swimming FOUR MILES IN THE OCEAN on Monday. Honestly it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. The second time out was less choppy, and it was nice just being out there in the ocean, swimming from the pier to the lighthouse, with the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk along the shore (roller coasters and other fun rides). I hadn’t ever swam that much in a single day before (and in open water!!), so needless to say I feel extremely prepared for the race coming up this weekend! I had such a fun time!!