Women Riders

Inspiring Women: Cat, the One-Legged Blonde

Written by  July 1, 2013

We all remember the dates that change our lives. Birthdays, wedding dates, the day of a major loss--they all become engraved in our mental tablets, and everything else in our lives is related to those times. On May 20, 2006, a purple minivan made a left turn and changed Cat’s life forever. But not how you might think.

On that fateful day, Cat’s friend had passed away suddenly. To deal with her grief, Cat did what she always did to clear her head--she went for a ride. It was on this ride that she became an unfortunate statistic--another biker injured in a cager-caused accident. She had a broken right leg, a punctured lung, a traumatic brain injury, and lost her left leg below the knee. The losses from this accident would soon multiply in other ways. But the gains would be amazing.

From a family of veterans and motorcycle riders, Cat’s first bike was a Yamaha 550. By the age of 26, she was on a Harley and taking her young kids with her on rides, much to the chagrin of everyone else. Now, she says, she realizes how dumb that was, but back then, it was what they enjoyed, and “it was all I knew.” She still has that old Yamaha on which her son learned to ride.

Cat said the loss of a limb affects you like a death, and you can either choose to remain angry or make the decision to walk. What helped her cope were the veterans she shared rehab with. Part of her therapy was visiting with a “trauma shrink” which did little to give her any insight into the life she was now facing. But she said the veterans made her see she wasn’t a “freak,” “Self-pity is toxic,” Cat said.

“I have to ride. If I don’t ride, I am not pleasant to be around,” Cat told me with a chuckle. The day her friend died, she had to ride to clear her head, and it was this same attitude she took after that fateful day in May. She was going to ride again and worked feverishly toward that goal. “It would be easier to give up breathing than riding,” Cat continued. “It’s my narcotic. It’s where my healing happened.”

Seven months after her accident, one day after Christmas, Cat rode for the first time since her collision with that purple minivan. “It clears my head and soothes my soul. Nothing on the planet makes me feel like I do when I’m on that bike.” “That bike,” her 2006 Harley Fat Boy, was rebuilt by friends, and “it was like being reunited with my best friend.” The bike had been lowered with an extended kickstand to accommodate her prosthesis, and because of her neck being injured as well, ape bars were added. She carries a prescription for the bars from her orthopedist due to their height, saying she gets pulled over frequently.

Her family and husband did not want her riding again, but she couldn’t and wouldn’t listen. Her life continued to change with the loss of her career, a divorce, and loss of her house, all within a year and a half. Still, she rode. Her son asked her why she wouldn’t give the bike up, and her reply was, “There is nothing I would rather do. The day I can’t ride is the day I’m done.”

“Everyone has something they are not willing to waiver from,” Cat told me. Hers was riding. She rode for 25 years and wasn’t about to let a thing like the loss of a leg stop her now.

Before her accident, Cat would shop at places like Macy’s. After, when she would go into the store with her prosthesis, she got “attitudes from the salespeople.” She needed help finding jeans and clothes she could wear, but they weren’t willing to help. But at the local Harley dealer, she not only got the help she needed, the sales girl told her, “Just give me the damn leg” and went off with it to find Cat some boots to fit it.

Cat has gone cross-country three times and logs about 15,000 to 20,000 a year. “That’s nothing to sneeze at for a one-legged girl,” she told me, laughing. She lives in Wisconsin, where the winters are pretty long. Cat told me she’s getting tired of those long winters as they interfere with her need to ride but has no plans to leave soon.

Five years and one month after her devastating accident, Cat once again cheated death when a deer rammed her beloved Fat Boy, splitting the frame and shattering her prosthesis. And once again, the bike she had named the Phoenix was rebuilt.

This past May Cat and her friend Ruth decided to ride with the veterans in Washington, DC. A “bucket list ride,” as she called it, they traveled a total of 3,000 miles round trip. Cat has to bring extra parts for her leg, saying that sometimes the leg parts take up more room than her clothes. The ride was in miserable rainy weather that hovered at just 40 degrees during the entire trip, and Cat said had they known ahead of time, they might have cancelled until next year. But if there is anything as dear to her as riding it would be US veterans, and she felt that of all the sacrifices they have made, she would do this ride.

Cat’s work with veterans continues on with visits to homeless vets shelters (“There is something so wrong about that”) and donating her time to various veteran charity organizations. She says of her devotion, “My mind and soul find healing in paying it forward. Though my TBI and amputation are not from military service I do understand a personal war in your mind. Today I am a grateful one-legged blonde. I am a veteran lover!”

Her accident seven years ago has also given her a new job, in addition to already being a motivational speaker. She is a “pilot” for a prosthesis company, meaning she tests out their prototypes. Currently she is piloting a leg that would allow her to use it like a natural ankle for riding her Harley. She has to bring spare parts and tools whenever she rides and reports on how the new leg is faring. So far she is impressed with their latest build. While she would not name the company, saying things are still in the testing phase, “I can put my left foot flat while on my Harley and almost flat on my floor board. To all who totally get what I am saying it has been 7 years!”

With all that has happened to Cat in the past seven years, there was not a shred of sadness or anger in her voice. She told me, “life is more…blessed.” And I am finding that that expression is the common denominator with these inspirational women bikers. They faced the worst life had to offer them, but came through the shadows with the help of their deep love for riding. It is this gratefulness and feeling their lives are blessed that allow them to pay it forward and tell a stranger their stories with a smile that can be heard.