When I was approached by the Pilates instructors from The Royal Danish Ballet, I couldn’t help being a little skeptical. I couldn’t possibly imagine what Pilates training could do for me…I soon ate my words!
I am a 29 year old soldier, who after 11 years in the Army, was hit by a buried road side bomb (IED) in Afghanistan, losing both my legs, my thumb and destroying my middle finger. In a split second, every dream I had was shattered, and a new destiny lay before me as I began my life as a double amputee.
As a soldier, it was second nature to me to work on the big global muscles. I spent hour upon hour pumping iron and working on my biceps and pecs in almost a body builder-type fashion. My automatic response after my injury was to try to pick up from where I left off, but suddenly it didn’t seem to make sense anymore. Everything seemed upside down and I had to start learning to walk from scratch. My hospital rehab mostly consisted of getting up on my prosthetics and ‘walking, walking and walking,’ without an awful lot of understanding as to “how to walk”.
I began training in Pilates in the summer of 2010. I was still living in the hospital and was pretty much wheelchair-bound. Initially, it was very hard to dig down past the superficial muscles and tune into the deep stabilizing muscles, but I soon realized that I was onto something when the day after training I had aching muscles – muscles that I didn’t even know existed! With the instructor’s guidance, we found an individual program that really delved deep into the elements of gait. We were able to begin with non-weight bearing exercises, so that I had a chance to figure out the movement patterns, without the complications of balance issues as well.
One of the biggest challenges for me was to encourage the brain/body connection. My body had always ‘just worked.’ I never had had to stop and question ‘how’ I did a movement. I had always been a fit guy and had never endured an injury before. I had always received information from my “feet to my brain” to tell me where my legs were in space. Now I was faced with the challenge of reversing this information flow. In my Pilates training we focused a lot on this, and through my breathing and awareness of my body I was soon able to control the direction of the information flow to quite a big degree. The instructors also really helped me to explore my muscles’ “arrangement”, as they called it. My “post blast” set up of muscle insertions were unique to any other person, and we therefore had to start over with exploring this new arrangement and learn not to “regain” my old movement patterns – but quite simply to “recreate” them!
Gaining control over my body seemed to improve by the day. Simple tasks such as balancing long enough to zip up my coat, or putting on my gloves, which a few month back were an impossibility, were suddenly a reality. The doctors had told me that I may never walk with my type of amputation, and here I am 3 years on climbing stairs, driving a car and having a job. My walk is smoother and my posture and alignment unrecognizable.
It gives a certain pride that these ballet dancers/Pilates instructors have chosen to spend their free time and effort on helping us. What an amazing initiative they have taken.
Name: Mark Peters
Age: 29 yrs
Location: Copenhagen, Denmark
Occupation: Corporal in the Danish Army since 2001
Deployments: Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan
Condition: Double amputation, missing left thumb and destroyed middle finger.