From living with Lymphedema, a broken toe, ankle fusion surgery and eventually having to have his leg amputated from the knee down, triathlete Jeff Davis shares with us how Fluid Running helped him stay fit through all of it!– Jennifer Conroyd
I started playing basketball and baseball in elementary school. In high school, I switched to swimming and track. I also started cycling in high school with a few swim team guys. After high school, I played rec league coed, men’s softball, and coed volleyball. I played softball into my mid 30’s, off and on. So I’ve always been a very active person.
In 2015, I had ankle fusion surgery, and was diagnosed with Lymphedema. The doctors told me I would never run again. From a physical standpoint, it was painful and heavy. The buildup of fluid in my leg made it hard to do the things I loved. Some days, walking was so painful I didn’t want to do anything. From a mental standpoint, I was highly frustrated.
But for whatever reason, this prompted me to sign up for a 5k, never having run one in my life. After running that 5k and enjoying it, I thought running a half marathon, and possibly a marathon might be fun. During one of my training runs, the idea of a triathlon hit me. I always thought it would be cool to be an Ironman. I thought, Jeff, you love to swim and bike, and now you can run, scrap the half marathon idea and become a triathlete instead. I didn’t know if it was possible after doctors had been telling me for years that I couldn’t run. But three months later, I ran my first sprint triathlon and have been hooked on the sport ever since. I did eventually run two half marathons as well.
Fluid Running allows people with Lymphedema to exercise in a non-pain environment because it is non-impact.
Most people with Lymphedema have pain so bad that they don’t want to exercise or are repeatedly told that they can’t exercise. Fluid Running allows people with Lymphedema to exercise in a non-pain environment because it is non-impact. Add on top of that the benefits of aquatic exercise for the lymphatic system and the entire cardio/respiratory system. The best thing is that the workouts are fun and motivating! The instructors paint a picture of you racing, running in the woods, or down your street. These are things that most people with Lymphedema have been told they “can’t do.” Mentally this is huge! Read my story here about how Fluid Running helped me train with my Lymphedema.
Unfortunately, in 2021, I had to have my foot amputated. As strange as it sounds, the amputation was one of the best things to happen to me. After dealing with pain and limitation in my ankle for nearly 30 years, it is incredible not to have that anymore. I knew from the time we decided to amputate that I wanted to be an adaptive athlete and a paratriathlete. I also knew I needed the right team of doctors, prosthetists, therapists, and coaches to support my vision. My PT and I have been friends for several years, and he recommended my prosthetist, who in turn recommended my surgeon. This team put together a prehab program for me so that coming out of surgery, I would be stronger and have better mobility. I have since added a coach who understands what it is like to be a below-knee amputee, as he is also one. Both my PT and Prosthetist connected me with other below-knee amputees here in Birmingham, whom I was able to sit down with and ask questions. Again, as with Lymphedema, having a community of other amputees around helps with all your mental struggles.
After surgery, my team and I set some goals, including participating in the 5k I had participated in every year since 2015. It was the first 5k I had run, and I wanted it to be my first 5k as an adaptive athlete. The thing standing in my way was this 5k was 16 weeks post-amputation. Running in a 5k that soon was a huge maybe. One of the things I did have on my side was the type of amputation I had done. The procedure I had was called an ERTL amputation, and it allowed me to get into a prosthetic much quicker. A couple of weeks after surgery, I was back in the gym working to strengthen my residual limb through a program put together by my PT and Prosthetist. As soon as the stitches were removed and I was allowed to get back in the pool, I was Fluid Running. By the grace of God and a lot of hard work with my team, sixteen weeks and one-day post-op, not only did I participate in the 5k, I ran the 5k beating my previous years’ time (which was before amputation) by 2 minutes.
I was elated and continued to train and run outdoors. Unfortunately, running blades can break, and mine broke twice. Instead of not running, I shifted all my run workouts to Fluid Running and increased my run fitness over the several weeks that my blade was in the “shop.” With the many different workouts in the app, I could find a workout that closely matched what was programmed for me that day. I did not doubt that once my blade was back, I could step back into dryland running without any issues, and I did. My blade got out of the shop two weeks before my first triathlon, and without missing a beat, my running went very smoothly.
From an amputee’s standpoint, Fluid Running is the best thing for new amputees to get back to exercise.
From an amputee’s standpoint, Fluid Running is the best thing for new amputees to get back to exercise. The program can help build strength in leg muscles before getting a prosthetic and continue to build strength and mobility after receiving a prosthetic, even if they never intend on running on a blade. As a blade runner, there are times when the residual limb is too tender to run or the phantom pains are too intense even to wear your prosthetic. There are also times when the residual limb needs to rest from the prosthetic for whatever reason. Fluid Running allows you to stay fit during these times because it’s a weight-free exercise.
My goal is to qualify for the Paratriathlon National Championships in Long Beach, CA. So far, I have done one 5k and 4 Sprint Triathlons as an adaptive athlete. I have two more 5ks scheduled for 2022. I am currently kicking around the idea of competing in the Mercedes Half Marathon in Birmingham in February, but I have not decided yet.
It has taken a lot of patience and learning to do the things I have been able to do. I couldn’t have done any of it without my Faith in God, my wonderful wife Kelli, who is my biggest cheerleader, my two boys JD and Dash, my friend, mentor, and PT Kenny with M3 Performance & Physical Therapy, and my Prosthetist Aaron and all the staff at Amputee Blade Runners.