Never Allow Others to Define Your Life

Morning rides don’t get much more serene than this. The temperature is perfect. The sunlight is flickering through the branches of an arching canopy. The air seems dead quiet despite it rushing through my helmet at 40kph. Nothing but rural, winding roads in front of me as I put the power down on my freshly tuned bike. I increase my cadence and dive into a corner, and then jump back on the pedals, accelerating toward the mountains on this perfectly tranquil morning.

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Suddenly my concentration is broken as a rumble of loud bikers approach me from behind. A Harley appears in my periphery.

I hear, “HEY!”

Startled, I quickly turn my head, swerving uncomfortably close to the gravel shoulder. Heart pounding, I slow slightly and look around to see a pack of leather-clad bikers motioning to me.

My mind is racing. Am I not allowed to enjoy this road? Did I accidentally discharge snot in their direction some kilometers ago? I sit tall as they match my speed. I smile and nod at the biker closest to me, only to be greeted by: “Fuck Yeah!”

I’m confused. Is this code for get off the road?

He reaches down toward his ankle and raises his pant leg.

I’m equally as surprised as I am relieved when I realize what he’s showing me.

“Nice!” I yell back as I slide left and jump into his draft. I’m breathing hard and my quads are burning as we accelerate down the road. I dig deep and shift to a harder gear, eyes fixed on the moto’s wheel. I glance up to see a smile and thumbs up as we wind through the curves. We are moving fast but this isn’t about speed, it’s about camaraderie. It’s peace.

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What has led to this momentary and seemingly unlikely connection between two men on vastly different machines?

Let’s roll the clock back three and a half years to a hospital bed, a scared triathlete and an uncertain future. I remember lying in that bed waiting for an orderly to wheel me into an operating room. All I could do was hope that the amputation of my leg would end a ten-year battle with osteomyelitis. The thought of an eventual return to competition seemed far-fetched but the thought of it helped me stay positive. When I awoke from surgery, the reality hit: my leg was gone and I was forever changed.

But I have never been afraid of adversity or change—even if it’s as monumental as going from two legs to one. I’m certainly not worried about my physical appearance or judgments from strangers.

The only thing that scares me is the prospect of being unhealthy.

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Thanks to prosthetic technology, my amputation hasn’t disabled me. Carbon feet, titanium clamps, resin sockets, silicone liners, 3D printing and endless imagination have allowed me to choose “thisabled” as my designation. Similarly, technological advancements in the cycling industry are constantly pushing the capabilities of our equipment. To some, these advancements mean riding faster. For others, technology removes obstacles that would otherwise keep them off of their bike—or another favorite activity.

From pedal systems that show left/right balance to veloPOLAR lenses that drastically improve visual definition without blacking out your Garmin’s screen, brands are constantly introducing innovative new products that improve our sport, and each small advancement makes the sport a bit easier or more enjoyable—helping to get people back on the saddle.

The leather-sporting biker who took me into his draft on the road that day was also an amputee, another person who had found peace (albeit, a noisy peace!) on that winding road. He didn’t know the details of my story, but he knew that we had more in common than prosthetics and two wheels. Those who rely on prosthetic legs don’t ride bicycles or motorcycles without having first ignored those who have told you that it’s impossible. And you don’t do it without an unwavering focus on your goal. For me it was—and continues to be—a simple philosophy, one that has gotten me through cancer, osteomyelitis, two amputations, and many other challenges:

“Never allow others to define or dictate your future. Be yourself and only be limited by your imagination. This life is your only story—live it with love.”

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About the author: Jordan Lea is a road cyclist and triathlete representing Ryders Eyewear, Obsession: Bikes, Scott Bikes, Swiftwick, and 2:18 Run. When he’s not on his bike, he works as Operations Manager at Ryders Eyewear in North Vancouver, BC.

In 1994, at the age of twenty-five, Jordan was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins lymphoma. The cancer took four years to cure and completely changed his life. Following the cancer, he competed as an ultra athlete in more than ten marathons, five ultra-marathons, four Ironman triathlons, and an Ultraman triathlon.

In 2004, a bone infection appeared in his left foot that he would fight—enduring intense rounds of IV antibiotics, hospitalizations and surgeries—for the next nine years.

In January of 2012, his doctors attempted a trans-metatarsal (front of the foot) amputation to remove the infection. In spite of this, the infection recurred nine months later, leaving his body in septic shock. A trans-tibia amputation (just below the knee) was considered the best and possibly only option to eradicate the infection and return to an active life.  

Since his amputation, he has supported other amputees through public speaking engagements and one-on-one mentorships. In 2014, eighteen months post-amputation, he returned to competition after eight years of illness and recovery.