A year after amputation, Bainbridge woman back on her feet
By NATHAN PILLING
Apr. 01, 2018
BAINBRIDGE ISLAND, Wash. (AP) — She picks her way across the beach, gradually making her way to the water, crossing small pebbles to larger rocks, moving with little thought across the uneven surface.
As she dips her feet into the water, she draws up her training pants to keep them from getting wet, revealing one leg she learned to walk with as a toddler and another, a prosthetic, that she's learned to walk with as an adult. Here on Bainbridge's Manitou Beach — a quiet spot on the water with a view of the gleaming city across Puget Sound — is where Sarah Dean gets right. The place has a stink to it when the tide rolls out, so like all things in life, it's not perfect, but it works.
She's done some reflection here, pondering what the last year has set at her feet. About a year ago, doctors were forced to amputate her right leg below her knee after she was hit by a pickup while she was walking along Highway 305 just outside of Poulsbo. The truck drove off, leaving her bleeding and broken along the road.
Excruciating pain, surgeries and weeks in the hospital followed. She's since learned to walk again and is on her way back to her favorite pastime: surfing. Dean, who lives on Bainbridge, has an island state of mind and has high hopes of moving soon to Hawaii, where she can immerse herself in the surfing world and get back to what she loves most.
"The last year has been, to be frank, it's been very heavy with relying on myself to get better," she said. "When it comes down to the end of the day, all you have is yourself. The cards and the flowers are great, but they only last so long and you have to get with reality."
In November and December, she rode her first waves since her injury, in an adaptive surfing competition in La Jolla, California. In a photo of one of her triumphant moments from that event, Dean strikes a proud pose as she glides across the water. Maybe it wasn't as pretty or as smooth of an experience as she'd hoped, but it was her wave. She was back.
"I was tearing up," said Dean's coach, Chris Courtois, who works with surfers who use prosthetics through a nonprofit called AccesSurf Hawaii. "She was too."
"To see her back in the water with that surfboard, it was a blessing," said Dean's mother, Barb McKenzie. "It was like OK, she's on her way."
As part of the event, Dean and other surfers trained with Courtois in the days leading up to the competition, and she worked to get a feel for her board again.
"She would be up and ready to go and would go until she couldn't go any more," Courtois said. "I was proud of her, and I still am. I can't wait to get her out here and get her trained."
Over the last year, there has been plenty of good, but it hasn't all been that way. There were days when getting out of bed seemed like too much. When she was sick of the sidelong glances and outright stares at her prosthetic. When walking into Starbucks one day felt like it would be just a step too far, when she couldn't be "Sarah the amputee," she said. After sitting for a few minutes in the parking lot that day, she drove back home.
"It's been a lot of depression," she said. "I'm not going to sugar coat it. It's really difficult."
It's been tough to watch her daughter struggle through the last few months, McKenzie said, as she's gone "two steps forward, one step back."
"Emotionally I've seen her do a lot of ups and downs," McKenzie said. "She's been through hell and back, that's to be expected. She's been doing well for what she's been dealt."
Dean and her family still hope to see the person who hit her brought to justice. The driver of the truck that struck her in that December 2016 hit and run has yet to be identified.
Washington State Patrol investigators believe a side mirror recovered at the scene is from a Dodge Dakota pickup, but that's about all they have to work with in their investigation, Trooper Russ Winger said.
"I don't know if we'll ever solve it," he said.
"When you have that and no real witness information you're just dependent on someone coming forward or luck," he said. "It's just one of the ways of the world in cases like this."
Anyone wanting to provide information about the hit and run can contact the Bremerton WSP office at 360-473-0300.
Dean is proud that even in those difficult months, she's maintained her sobriety, which she's held on to since her injury. She's also been swimming and working out to get herself back into top shape for when she does make it back to Hawaii.
And she's set a lofty goal for herself, one she has no doubt that she'll make: She hopes to surf at the 2024 Summer Paralympics in Paris.
Surfing will make its debut as an Olympic sport in the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, but it hasn't yet received that designation as a Paralympic sport. Dean hopes to be one of its pioneers, to be one of the first athletes in the world to ride the waves as a Paralympic athlete.
"Oh, I will," she said. "I will be the Amelia Earhart of women's prosthetic surfing."
Information from: Kitsap Sun, http://www.kitsapsun.com/