The 26th Amputee Coalition Conference brought together amputees from across the world to Tucson as they received support from various organizations.
Approximately 1,150 people arrived at the JW Marriott Tucson Resort, exploring new technologies and information that professionals had to offer from Thursday through Saturday.
Jack Richmond, president of the Amputee Coalition of America for the past two years, said the event is about meeting people wherever they are in their lives.
“It’s a very empowering thing, and there’s so many very emotional stories about recovery, getting on with your life and just being able to do what you want to do,” he said about the conference.
Richmond, who had a lower limb amputated 32 years ago, said, in his 26 years working with the coalition, he has seen significant changes, starting with community awareness.
“People are much more comfortable in their own skin, and really that’s what it’s all about. That’s part of the recovery process,” he said.
The conference is the largest gathering for people affected by limb loss in the world, with more than 1,000 attendees each year, the organization says.
William Alms, a participant with a lower-limb amputation, said he felt connected and experienced a “great” event.
“The first time you see each other, they treat you like family, they share their experiences. It’s very positive,” Alms said. “There’s a lot of new information, new technology. It’s been wonderful.”
Alms said he will remember “the importance of advocating for the community and access to all the resources” available to amputees, such as health care.
He, like many participants, experienced just about everything the conference had to offer, including adaptive hand cycles brought out by Southern Arizona Adaptive Sports, a nonprofit organization formed in 2017 to serve people with disabilities through the promotion of fitness.
“Everybody can play. It doesn’t matter what your skill level, or ability level is; everyone has the right to recreate and play,” said Mia Hansen, president of Southern Arizona Adaptive Sports.
Representatives from international organizations attended the conference, including the Össur clinic, a developer and producer of orthopedics.
Sarah Reinertsen, who is sponsored by Össur and is the first amputee to compete in the World Marathon Challenge, mentored participants learning to walk the right way with a prosthesis.
She said the amputees she mentors don’t have to aspire to be marathon runners when it comes to being active again.
“If they want to play softball with their company team, if they want to run with their grandkids again, I want to help them get to their starting line with the right equipment and the right training,” she said.
Reinertsen became an above-knee amputee at 7 years old and said she was underestimated because of it. It all led her to encourage others.
“Oftentimes when you’re facing something like losing your limb, it can be pretty isolating when you’re sitting in your hospital bed,” Reinertsen said. “Then you come to an event like this; you connect with other people, and you learn those tips and tricks that help you get back to your independent self.”
She said the conference is a place where emotional healing as well as physical healing can happen.
“We don’t see disability as a bad thing, but as a challenge to adapt and to carry on living. We are trying to make disability beautiful,” Reinertsen said.