“When death throws you back.”
Cat’s famous words when she opens up to speak. It was May 20, 2006 by medical opinion Cat should be dead. A motorcycle crash resulted in skull fractures, TBI, broken bones, collapsed lung and amputation of her leg. She shares not riding again was never an option. While on medical leave as an ICU RN she was terminated, 6 months later divorced, 6 months after that lost her house and suburban lifestyle gone in a flash. She was left with a crashed Harley, a broken mind, body & spirit. It was in that cavern that she was being forged. She shares a decision that changed her; “I could stay angry the rest of my life or pick myself up & the only way I knew how was to ride that Fatboy again.” As she spent time rehabbing she met veterans that dealt with far more losses. As friends rebuilt her Harley, her mind, body & soul began to mend. It was in the saddle that her healing began to manifest in her actions. As she speaks to others, “If God himself came down and said, I will give it all back” She shares, “Thank you but no. I have found life.” and as the meaning of her new life and the journey continue to reveal themselves to both her and others. It is an inspiration to the broken as she pulls into VA centers and veterans says, “If that little girl can ride that, I will walk again!” So as she is Riding Above The Tombstone inspiring others, so Cat the One Legged Blonde shares, “I might have lost my leg but I have gained my Life!”
As a child I moved from town to town with limited material things, the outside was earth’s playground as it was my legs that carried me across the ground. A grandmother with a 3rd grade education could do anything with nothing and transform those things around them into beauty or nourishment; she taught me if she could so could I: after all I was of this Southern stock of strong women. The idea of being a woman did not make you less than, it just meant you had to work harder to get what you wanted, speak louder to be heard and that the beauty of life was internal and would glow within radiating to your outside. “Pretty is as pretty does.” At 14 I forged my birth certificate to go to work.
I road on my first motorcycle with my older brother and fell in love instantly at about 16. I knew my parents would never let me ride a motorcycle as it was taboo for a woman to drive a bike and certainly never that dirty word, a Harley Davidson. It was my secret dream to have one of my own and after all it was American made and I wanted the American dream. At age 18 I bought a Yamaha and drove that, but yearned for Harley Davidson. The desire for a Harley never diminished. At 23 I dated a guy with a 69’ Pan Head and it strengthened my passion for Harley’s. But I could only ride not drive because he said girls don’t drive they clean and ride. That did not last and by 28 I had my first 1979 Low Rider and I felt the freedom I longed for. That peace that only a long ride on a Harley Davidson on a sunny day can give you. My passion just grew and my love for harley’s grew stronger. I have been on many different brands but none every so true as a Harley Davidson. My passion so strong many times I did not fit in with my culture, my friends, my family and I certainly never was the stereotypical female but I loved it. When I drove my first Fatboy of a friend of mine I knew that was my bike and I would get one. I bought my first Fatboy the 15th anniversary Fatboy and it gave me exactly what I wanted and for that I cannot explain. Fall of 2005 I had a 2006 Fatboy Harley Davidson custom built and delivered exactly the way I wanted. On May 20, 2006 a sunny, beautiful day, a day that turned into a most turbulent and murky time one might have, one of my prized possession I owned was lost, ripped away and it was as if it would never be found and certainly not replaced.
The day that became a time in my life that would be the most challenging, one that would take the most courage to face, one that would make me wonder why and ask the Almighty why did you save me for this?
One assured reality; the sun no longer visited and the part of me that would never betray me as a child as they carried me across miles, vanished. The days filled surrounded by nurses my very own peers, you would think I was grateful; but the painful loneliness descend deeper as I realized even this was altered. The part that was stolen and tossed way as if it were a scrap for a stray dog in a sinister ally was not the only insult. The ally we all dread but never speak about now became my living agony. My dreams in a dumpster and hopes lost.
As the doctors walked in I was alone for some odd reason as seldom I had privacy, but like that day I seldom rode alone there I was alone again, like on the road twisted and mangled twenty five feet from my passion. This day eight MD’s came in to speak standing 15 feet away, as if I had a contagious disease, “We have to take it, and we can not save it. You will never use it again.”
I thought, what do you mean, you can’t save it? I save lives, save me! Then one asked, “How do you feel about this?” I looked up and over as the nurse caring for me who must have come in wept in silence, “What do you want me to say? You want to cut off my leg that has trophy winning tattoos?” The left as quickly as the came in and anguish welled up as I told my husband at the time how they would strip my existence a. As the days went into nights and surgery after surgery the certainty of my life changing so irrevocably was emerging into a repulsive reality.
The days went by and they sent me home, to a home with stairs unclimbable, to a bathroom unusable to a hospital bed in a room with a bedside. As people came daily to clean and help out of kindness, the reality reminded me of yet another handicap. The thought I could not comprehend handicapped I was the nurse.
My brother had been paralyzed years ago and I never comprehended his reality, until now. How little I discerned about his challenge until the wheel chair I was in ripped woodwork off and I struggled to balance to wash my hands and find a bathroom I did not have to battle to get into, a challenge I never recognized. How real my ignorance became and his stamina to transform his life, was not because he was handicapped, not him, it was his inner strength and perseverance. The more I reflected about what he overcame the more anguished and powerless I felt. I cannot do this, I cannot live disfigure. I cannot, a mother who weeps to see me and a husband disgusted with how I looked, how could I deal with strangers?
The pain became profound and cavernous as I stared down to a leg that was almost gone now. That 357 revolver I had bought years ago had a friend in the chamber that would release this anguish and bitter pain but the steps were now my unclimbable enemy; for upstairs that pistol rested. Unreachable, unattainable just like the life I once had. I lay there now inflicted with an amputated limb. The sounds of the loud pipes I loved, now were torturous and agony to hear.
Finally one day I went to the specialist, with hope I might make her walk again and return the precious life that was stolen. But like the other days that the sinister ally was filled with it to became the reality, like one more long trudge through hopes, dreams sent crashing to the ground. The rage and tears grew more as this failed and that pistol serenaded me calling to me but still unreachable as unreachable as the dream of walking and that ally became longer and lonelier. The days with this specialist were spent in a cold back closet room filled with mirrors as a constant remind of what was stolen and the pain screamed back the reality I had and reminder of what was stripped away. The looks from strangers briefly and looking away as if they too could be mangled.
Then as if the wind carried my grieve a phone call from a stranger came, and gave me a number of a legman and this one she called the miracle worker one who would help. She knew him, as her father had been in this sinister ally after a horrible farming accident.
So the day came and I went to see this man broken and hurting. As I came in to the office kind and compassionate people at the desk smiled and looked at me, they did look away as if the curse would leap upon them. They smiled and led me to an open airy room without the hateful mirrors that laughed at me. The legman came in smiling and talked this talk and he assured me I would walk again if I agreed to let him help me. I thought quietly and said that’s what the others said too. But I thought, if I could walk even a little the revolver would be reachable and that was sufficient hope. So I went back and they casted and made molds and they came back two hour later and put the leg on and I stood up and asked not once but twice, “Is it on?” “Are you sure?” and I walked without crutches and the ripping excruciating pain that had kept me down the ally of hell was gone. He smiled and said yes it’s on and walked up the hallway without the walker, smiling and feeling as if a precious gift was given back.
So I would ask, “How do you thank a man who gave you back your life?” “How do you thank a man who gave you a most prized possession the gift to walk?” “How do you thank a man whose kindness and compassion were so real and genuine that you knew with no shadow of a doubt that God could not be everywhere so he imparted his gifts on this man.”
When I left this stranger, a hope for life not for a 357 began to materialize. So I went to see my bike and sat on her and I cried. Could it be possible could they fix her so that I could ride again? How much would it take? The skilled hands began to restore my Fatboy as the legman had restored me. Even the parts counter-helping pick the parts, for if God spared my life than I would ride above the Tombstone as a Godly victory, to the motorcycle boots that were lost with my leg. So wonderful was Cookie she took my prosthetic leg and shoved it in boots till one fit without flinching.
It was a cold day after Christmas the day I got back on my best friend and took a Ride Above The Tombstone. That began my journey back from the grave.
Is this radical, if you think this is extreme than you do not know me. As the times I walked into places and met strangers asking for help, the snooty looks were people walked away at fancy stores in search of jeans to the Goth and skater stores that never hesitated and helped without a flinch. You could not feel my desolate pain and you have never gone down the sinister ally of hell that felt as if there was no return and felt that God had abandon you. You may have lost many things in your life but until you lose a limb, you have never lost your self. I have, in a motorcycle accident, with that I lost everything in a moment in a blink of an eye it was gone forever I thought and then God sent strangers like, Ray McKinney, who is he? The legman that gave life back. He not only gave me the ability to walk when others could not but he gave me back the will to not just go on but the ability to want to live. Andrew Connolly of PT Plus who works my good leg and my 2/3rds leg to rehab my next life endeavor with kindheartedness and care. Others like, Racine Harley and their fabulous staff, Jeff Gustin builder that modified so when I became strong enough I could ride again. Cookie Gustin who helped me with boots and that’s not easy with a prosthetic leg. Vern Bader who painted my pink and white Harley Davidson and Kid Kelly of Fat Daddyz Tattoo’s who put the Guardian angel on the back to watch over and Randy from First Rate auto who customized my seat with white leather and pink writing Riding Above The Tombstone to match the tattoo on what’s left of my leg. The strangers I do not remember that picked me up off the road with two skull fractures and a leg ripped off. To the tow truck man Junior a biker also as I learned drove his truck into traffic to stop the flow so I would not be hurt more. The list goes on. I have lost a husband, a house and many material things but I have not lost my 2006 Harley Davidson Fatboy and my drive to ride.
At the emptiest time in my life God sent kind hearted, compassionate and caring people some that were essentially strangers when I needed it most. He did not do it through angels or agencies. He used ordinary people doing extraordinary goodness to help a biker so that I would drive my bike again. He used life’s tribulations for one to challenge others to reach beyond their comfort zone and help a stranger, a daughter, a mother, Registered Nurse, oh and I almost forgot a biker. I will be forever grateful to all who have touched my life and I look so forward to my adventures on Fatboy, something that I thought I would never do. I rode her again Christmas 2006. The greatest gift of life is family, friends and strangers and the ability to ride my Fatboy.
My time is filled with rehabbing, volunteering to help veterans and educating the public on amputee issues, motorcycle safety and Riding Above The Tombstone.