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Amputees brave the heat to scale formidable UW-EC hill

A small group of amputees and their family and friends worked their way up the hill to UW-Eau Claire’s upper campus late Sunday morning. Chatting and taking it easy in the hot sun, they shouted words of encouragement to each other.

Leading the group were Jon Carlson from Spooner and Jenna Jenneman, who organized the event, which is called The Climb.

Despite Carlson’s concern over a badly fitting prosthetic (he’s on his fourth), he made it to the top of the steep hill, which is just over a tenth of a mile long. “It’s a workout,” he said. “The heat is the worst part.”

Jim Ordman from Eau Claire wasn’t as successful. Walking with family, friends, and his “leg lady” Leah Bowman with Hanger Clinic, he “wanted to see if he could do it.” Despite staying active, playing Frisbee golf, and a great attitude, the heat and incline won this time.

Jenneman emphasized over and over that the first-time event was not a race.

“Take it easy; it’s to accomplish something,” she said. “It’s more or less, ‘yes, I can do this. I can do events, I can be active.’”

Jenneman, who is a below-the-knee amputee, conceived the idea of The Climb last spring as one of her many ongoing efforts to connect amputees. “There’s a lot of amputees stuck in houses, and they don’t know who to connect with,” she said.

After starting an amputee support group called Amplify Peer Support Network, she connected with Minnesota-based Wiggle Your Toes, a growing group that keeps amputees connected, provides advice and offers activities. She met Rob Rieckenberg, Wiggle Your Toes director of client advocacy, while on a hospital visit and persuaded him to sponsor The Climb.

Also sponsoring the climb were Hanger Clinic, based in downtown Eau Claire; UW-Eau Claire Recreation and Sports Operations; and Ski Sprites, the local water-ski team.

Colleen Weber, with Ski Sprites, said they’re already running an adaptive program working with children who have cerebral palsy and those who have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. “We’re pretty excited about working with these guys now,” she said.

“We’re gathering names today, so we can find out more about these guys, find out more about their needs on the water,” she said. “Jenna will be our first amputee skier in August, and we’re super excited about that.”

Jenneman has a positive attitude about trying skiing. “I started doing adaptive wake boarding last year,” she said.

Turnout was small this first year, but as Rieckenberg said, “This is going to be a growing event.” He encouraged everyone participating today to come back next year and bring two friends.

Jenneman hopes to work more with UW-Eau Claire going forward to provide more adaptive events for area amputees.

People interested in learning more about how to connect with other amputees or adaptive events and opportunities can contact the Services for Students with Disabilities office on the Eau Claire campus by phone at 715-836-5800 or email at ssd@uwec.edu.

Staff photo by Dan Reiland  

Betty Fitzl, who suffered a stroke last year and needed to learn to walk again, will run the 4-mile race at Pure Water Days in Chippewa Falls. View more photos at LeaderTelegramPhotos.com.