Making The Unnatural Appear Natural
Making the Unnatural Appear Natural
By Lou Figueroa
One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned in life came from the legendary martial artist and actor Bruce Lee. He spoke of the philosophy of how martial arts allowed him to make the unnatural appear natural. In my position as a man missing both legs the practice of combining natural instinct with control is a philosophy I live by daily.
Losing my Legs
In November of 2007, I was involved in an accident that would forever change my life. While out with a group of friends in the downtown district of Denver, I encountered a beverage that was laced with an unknown substance experiencing a rapid onset of intoxication. In a daze attempting to gather my composure, I stepped out of the bar and wandered off into the darkness of the night.
At approximately 3:08 AM, two police officers were dispatched to the scene of a train VS pedestrian accident near Coors Field. There, they were flagged down by a conductor of the BNSF Railway. The engineer stated that him and colleague were performing routine operations when they approached Union Station to unload their last cargo of the evening. Upon entering the yard the two men witnessed what appeared to be a piece of debris laying across the tracks. As they drew closer they realized the debris was actually a human body that had been struck by a recent coal train passing through. The men estimated the train had passed through approximately 15 minutes prior to their arrival. In an effort to save my life, the conductor stopped the train, and attempted to put tourniquets around my legs while the other conductor ran for help. Amazingly one of the men was trained in the military and immediately went into survival mode. The two police officers, the two conductors of the railway and two paramedics proceeded to extract my body from under the train onto the awaiting gurney and rushed me off to Denver General Health.
I awoke a week later in a hospital bed and quickly realized that my life would no longer be the same. My natural instinct was to get out of the bed but I couldn’t even bare the strength to move. I looked down to the sight that both of my legs had been amputated. My left hand was also injured resulting in reconstructive surgery and subsequently the loss of one finger. My life was hanging by a thread. My days consisted of feeding tubes and caring for an extreme amount of pain. I had endured nine life saving surgeries and things weren’t looking good. It would be months before I would be able to go home and my life was full of uncertainty.
Mobility in a Wheelchair
I was facing a new challenge, life in a wheelchair. I remember the day it arrived. I was so excited because I had it specially built with the finest parts custom to fit my needs and lifestyle. If I was going to use a wheelchair I wanted to make sure that I would feel confident in it. I adapted to life as a young man in his late twenty’s using a wheelchair. The next year I went back to work. I began wheeling into work each day and working full-time at a desk. People commented on my confidence and appreciated my will to prevail. I wanted more out of life and made it my goal to learn how to walk again and think beyond life in a wheelchair.
Walking with Prosthetics
The time had come for me to start walking and through my employment benefits I was able to consider replacing my reliance of a wheelchair with the use of prosthetic legs. I was thrilled and started reaching out to prosthetic offices who specialized with people losing multiple limbs.
They were able to fit me with a new ankle and foot on my right leg and a bionic knee for my left leg. I began walking into work using two forearm crutches, progressing to two walking canes. Soon I learned how to use just one cane and then my colleagues saw me walk into work without the aid of canes or crutches. It was amazing to hear people say how proud they were of me and how far I had come.
Practice Makes Perfect
I focused my energy on walking with intent and how fluid I could be. I started mastering the look of a natural gait and what it felt like. Little by little I trained myself on slopes and steps, eventually walking a quarter-mile loop and adding stairs to challenge the routine.
My bionic knee was interpreting the level of ground with each step and adjusting accordingly. As I learned how the knee worked, I was able to fine tune my gait by aligning myself mentally with my prosthesis. I had nearly mastered Bruce Lee’s quote of making the unnatural appear natural.
Bruce Lee’s Lesson
Bruce Lee explained that if you go to extremes in making the unnatural appear natural you become “a mechanical man” — no longer a human being. It is the successful combination of both natural instinct and control that transforms into natural unnaturalness.