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By JOHN FRIEDLEIN
ELIZABETHTOWN — Amputee A.J. Johnson — who started walking again only about two months ago after recovering from surgery — will have to bail in Pennsylvania on a west-to-east bicycle trek across America.
It’s not that she physically can’t make it to the New Jersey coast. She teaches third grade and school is about to start.
The 31-year-old Georgia woman — along with two other amputees and a contingent mostly of HealthSouth Lakeview Rehabilitation Hospital employees — rode Wednesday about two miles north on Dixie Avenue from the Historic State Theater to the health care facility. This is the seventh year for the Amputees Across America bicycle and parachuting trip, which has taken riders through town before.
Johnson, who wears two prosthetic legs, had expected to ride for just a week or so as a fill-in for amputee Doc Milligan, who fell from his bike and was injured during a dog attack.
“I’m just trying to hopefully do a good job filling in his shoe,” she said.
She actually didn’t even intend to cycle — just hang out and drive the support truck. But people were supportive.
“And here I am,” she said. “You just take one day at a time; you don’t try to overdo it.”
The cyclists rotate from a bike to the truck.
“We stop riding when it’s not fun anymore,” she said.
This roughly 3,500-mile tag-team journey started in Tustin, Calif., on June 2 and will end in Tinton Falls, N.J., early next month.
“Every day is a challenge,” said Johnson, whose feet were crushed in an auto wreck when she was 17. Her legs weren’t amputated until more than 10 years later.
Balance can be a challenge for amputee riders. And a lack of ankle power creates a “dead spot” on the pedals, so cranking can be difficult.
All this effort is intended to raise awareness — not just about amputees, but about how life continues after any hardship, from a divorce to a back injury.
“There is always life after,” Johnson said. “It’s just what you do with it that makes it good or not so good.”
Her students in Macon, Ga., think what she is doing is cool. Johnson, who has Elvis stickers on one of her prosthetic legs, may start a family bike club at school.
Cycling, she said, is a great way for her to get exercise — at least until she begins running in about six months.
LEARN MORE: Visit www.amputeesacrossamerica.com
John Friedlein can be reached at (270) 505-1746.