Amputee Woman Biker Captures Success in Rugged Rally

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By Miki Fairley

I rode, I crashed, and I rode a bunch more, just like all the other riders. At no time was my amputation a handicap. My prosthesis really did let me ride and participate to the limit of my abilities! I had such an amazing adventure, and I am so glad that I did it!

This is Angie Washo's enthusiastic summary of her participation in the AlCan 5000 Rally in August. Angie was not only the first woman--but also the first amputee--to compete in the rugged 3,500-mile, nine-day course. The rally, which departed from Kirkland, Washington, August 18, took riders though British Columbia, the Yukon territories of Canada, and on to Alaska. The bikers encountered thick fog, rain, mud, dirt, gravel, 14-percent downgrades, and hairpin switchbacks--not to mention moose, buffalo, bears, cattle, trucks, and many campers.

Out of 15 starting riders, Angie finished in eighth place overall--and second in the under-700cc category! She rides a Suzuki DRZ400S. Her husband Brad was first in that category and sixth overall. Angie's class--the "Seat of the Pants" class, as she calls it--can have only stock bike parts and a GPS unit, no computers. "The 'Whiz Bang' class can have all sorts of navigational computers and electronics," she explains.

A long-time motorcycle enthusiast, Angie, who lives in Howey-in-the-Hills, Florida, lost her left leg about two years ago after being struck on her motorcycle by a hit-and-run drunk driver. She wears a Gold Medal foot, a custom-fit, state-of-the-art carbon fiber prosthetic foot made by Otto Bock HealthCare, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Angie's GPS stopped working early in the race, but she was able to repair it. "The time-speed-distance (TSD) sections rely on our knowing exactly where we are, exactly how fast we are going, and exactly what time it is," she explains. "I spent all day wondering where I was, where I was going, and when I might get there, but it was still fantastic fun!"

On the first day, as she headed down a steep grade, she came around a tight bend and almost crashed into a huge steer standing in the middle of the road. On the second day, "Wildlife came running out from every direction. Moose look really goofy when they gallop!"

On the fourth day, Angie was exhilarated. "I was excited, because my clock was right, my GPS was working, and I had a formula for my speedometer." Then she fell at the start. "No big deal--just a slow-motion clunk over in the street, really more ego-bruising than anything else."

Heart-Stopping Off-Road 'Tour'

That night the riders stopped in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, and were heading to Skagway, Alaska, the next day. That ride would include about five hours of "technical" off-road. Angie's online Daily Journal details the experience: "Wow! I can't believe what we did today! We rode up and we rode down--it felt like straight up and down! Jamie Gleason of Arcticmoto.com led us on a 'tour' of the backcountry between Whitehorse and Skagway. I have to admit that I was scared out of my wits before we started. I imagined that I would be the only one to crash; I would hold up the group; and I might even get hurt. It didn't make it any easier when we started out on a nearly vertical slope of loose rocks and boulders. Then I watched as BMWs and KTMs crashed and flopped over. Not a good start!"

However, the bikers helped one another through, and the whole group reassured Angie. "I also had some wonderful advice, which may just be the answer to life, the universe, and everything." Another biker told her, "Keep your feet on the pegs, your butt in the air, and your eyes on the prize."

"This got me through the rest of the very challenging ride," Angie says. In fact, she got a bit overconfident and "launched myself into the woods at about 30 mph after hitting a log in the trail." Both Angie and her bike got up and kept going.

'We Made It!'

Day six was a long one. The group rode over 500 miles, much of it on gravel at high speeds. "A couple of the riders got to meet the Mounties up close and personal while they got their speeding tickets, but Brad and I just chugged along." When they reached that night's hotel, Angie says, "I didn't care that there was no Internet access, no decent restaurant nearby, and no laundry...All I wanted to do was shower and sleep."

On day eight, the group was originally supposed to be relaxing on a ferry and watching the coastline and glaciers slip by while their bikes were secured below decks, but the reservations didn't make it. So the group rode the extra miles, to the finish. "We made it!" Angie said in her journal. "Unbelievably the last day was the best! We rode through beautiful country today!" Other scenery along the way was spectacular also, but often the riders were going too fast and too hard to really see it, she says.

Awards and Thanks

Awards were made during a celebratory banquet. Besides finishing first and second in their class, Angie and Brad also received the Northern Lights award, which was a motivational category. "The awards were small versions of a primitive northern rock sculpture called Inuksuks,' which were left by ancient hunters to mark that other humans had passed along lonely trails--a fitting memento of this adventure," Angie explains.

"I couldn't have gotten here without the help of so many people," Angie says. "Jan and Joe Saunders spent so many hours working on the design for my leg. The leg held up completely." Jan Saunders, CPO, and his son Joe, LOF, operate Saunders Prosthetics & Orthotics Inc., Kissimmee and Lady Lake, Florida. The family business also includes Jan's daughter Alison, a licensed orthotic fitter's assistant, and her fiancé Bruno Santos, also a licensed orthotic fitter's assistant. Angie also appreciated her prosthesis: "The foot from Otto Bock really is lightweight and responsive; it lets me ride and walk without thinking about it," Angie adds.

Angie is a star patient, says Jan Saunders. "In 32 years, I've fit about 16,000 prosthetic legs and arms--and she is one of the most amazing patients I've ever had. She doesn't know the meaning of the word disability.' Whatever she wants to do, she does!" Saunders appreciates being in a family business, because it gives him the freedom to design and make exactly what he feels his patients need, he notes.

Others have helped too, Angie says. "I can stand up on the pegs and shift the bike around, partly because Chris at UnderGlass welded steel blocks to the peg for me and lengthened my shift lever." Also helping were her Tech-4 boots from Alpine Star and the Schuberth Concept helmet from BMW of Orlando, which "saved my head when I launched through the bushes." BajaDesigns helped provide larger gas tanks. Also helping was Sun State Fun Sports.

Angie is a Motorcycle Safety Foundation instructor and operates Florida Motorcycle Training of Lake County Inc., Eustis. Besides biking, she is a professional SCUBA diving instructor and snowboards, wakeboards, in-line skates, and spear fishes.

Is Angie looking forward to more adventures? "Absolutely," says Angie, "I have found out that there is a whole series of dual-sport races all over the country--the season is just starting!"