Pedaling Away: One Teen's Life-Changing Decision

May 30 2014, 9:35 AM

Life would be better without her leg. That's what Lauren Sepanske was told. The 16-year-old from Castle Rock had just wrapped up her sophomore year at Douglas County High School, and spent the first weeks of her summer convincing herself to let go of, well, part of herself. Without it, she could regain the piece of her that always seemed a step behind. 

The troubles with Sepanske's leg started the afternoon she entered the world. Born with webbed toes and a pinky toe that stuck out the rim of her foot, Sepanske's parents were told that doctors would try to treat their infant daughter for clubbed feet. Yet even with weekly progress, Sepanske's right foot just kept "springing back" to its previous position. Surgeries followed including the removal of both pinky toes which impeded Sepanke's abilities to wear shoes. The ever-changing casts didn't stop the blonde, energetic girl from learning to walk, playing soccer, ice-skating, skiing, or participating in gymnastics. But after her freshman year, her small frame began to feel the overwhelming pressure from her disabled foot, and the heavy weight of constant bullying. "The way my foot used to look was scary," Sepanske says. "It didn't look functional and I didn't feel normal. Knowing I wouldn't have a leg, that's more normal. People would look at it and think that I either amputated it or was in an accident. You see amputees doing things, like biking, that people with two legs do all the time. I knew that if I wasn't going to be in any pain, then that was all I wanted. I was tired of self-handicapping myself because I couldn't do anything." Between the physical and emotional pain, Sepanske made the call she'd be better off to just make the most drastic decision of her life and start a new type of suffering—one many Coloradans know all too well.

Sepanske's right leg was amputated on July 9, 2013. "I was up and walking in a prosthetic in about a month," Sepanske says. "I'm pain free. It was the best decision of my life and I'd never go back. There's no way I'd want another leg." Her recovery turned to physical therapy, then on to training for a goal: to ride the Elephant Rock century road bike ride June 1 in Castle Rock. She had already ridden every other road distance offered at the annual ride, and with all the changes in her life, she thought 2014 was the right time to take on the century. "I decided that this year, after I cut my leg off, it was time to go all out and do the 100-miler." Sepanske has been training at the Fast Lab in Englewood to build up her base. "I get set-up to a Spin Scan [a trainer that computes the statistics of the bicycle ride]," Sepanske says. "I train twice as hard in the Spin Scan room because I don't stop and I'm constantly pedaling. It's twice the amount of work in the same amount of time. I'm learning how my muscles work now to get the push and the pull of someone with two legs." 

She won't be riding alone. Along with a support team of family and friends, a November invitation to appear on the Doctors television show landed her a riding partner, Dr. Travis Stork. The doctor was so inspired by Sepanske's journey that he offered to ride beside her for the entire 100-mile push. All the donations she raises will benefit the tuition to send other young amputees to the Paddy Rossbach Amputee Coalition Summer Camp. If you are out at the Elephant Rock ride on Sunday, look for the parade of baby blue T-shirts—and, probably some TV cameras. This century ride is just Lauren Sepanske's next stride.

Follow Lauren Sepanske's progress on her blog: from8to4.weebly.com. If you'd like to donate to her ride fund go here

Follow editorial assistant Lindsey R. McKissick on Twitter at @LindseyRMcK.

—Image courtesy of Lauren Sepanske