SPORTS, FITNESS & DANCE

Please Cut Here- Joe Pleban's Amputee Adventures

Amputee

Joe Pleban

I’M JOE PLEBAN

I am 27 and currently living in Silverthorne, CO.  However, my home is wherever you find my fiance Johnna and my dog, Grohl (currently Fredericksburg, VA). Some of you may know me for my 'Please Cut Here' Tattoo...one of the only non-permanent, permanent tattoos. In 2014, I got my left foot amputated and before hand I had a bucket list of items to do with my left foot, including getting a tattoo. But let's start from the beginning.

BEFORE THE AMPUTATION

I am a three-year amputee who has a chance to snowboard for the United States in the Paralympics next year. Did I ever think I would have an opportunity to compete at a professional level in the sport I love? NOPE. But, here we are!  Born in California and raised in Virginia by my parents with two younger sisters, my family was never lacking adventure. Traveling, scuba diving, hiking national parks, swimming; I grew up with the attitude that I could try just about anything.  I love all sports and the success of competing well, but especially the camaraderie that came with being on a team. All throughout middle and high school I competed in swimming, eventually making the top 16 fastest 50-meter freestylers in Virginia. When I attended Christopher Newport University for college, I switched to rugby for the brotherhood, tackles and tries. The bonds I built as a member of my college rugby team I will have forever. Those college teammates/goofballs are still some of my best friends to this day. But the sport I never strayed from is snowboarding. From the time I learned, I have spent every family vacation to Vermont and snowy weekend to Snowshoe on the slopes and in the terrain parks. I have even had the opportunity to board in California on some of the most professionally challenging terrain parks. I have enjoyed every second of it. However, with sports, injury usually follows. In my years growing up, ankle injuries remained a constant in my life. It seemed no matter what I did, I always ended up in pain and on crutches.  On my high school graduation day, I broke my ankle wakeboarding.  When it refused to heal properly, the doctors popped open my ankle and found out that I wasn’t just injury-prone, but I had a very rare joint disease called PVNS that caused benign tumors to invade my ankle joint. I spent six years enduring numerous surgeries, radiation therapy, pain medication, and way too much time on crutches. PVNS destroyed my ankle, and all of the things I loved to do were slowly taken away because of pain. At the age of 23, I was walking with a cane. The doctors gave me two options: ankle fusion, which one doctor told me “you’ll have enough movement to get out of the way of a moving car, or amputation."  Well, you know which one I chose.

THE LAST ADVENTURES OF JOE'S LEFT FOOT BUCKET LIST

As you can imagine, it was the hardest decision I have ever made. But, in true Pleban fashion, my family started to make jokes about it immediately, from endless Halloween costume ideas to helping me get my first non- permanent tattoo: a dotted line and scissors topped with “please cut here” on my ankle a month before my surgery. The surgeons were surprised. Along with the tattoo was an extensive bucket list of adventures to have before the surgery. My fiancé, Johnna, and I went to music festivals, skydiving, paint balling, scuba diving and much more. It was a great farewell to my left foot before my surgery in June of 2014 at Georgetown University Hospital. They did not let me keep my severed foot. I tried. Something about Virginia State Laws. In an effort to keep my family and friends up-to-date on my journey, my sister created a Facebook page called ‘The Last Adventures of Joe’s Left Foot’.  We enjoyed posting pictures of all our adventures and the numerous ways we could cut off my foot. When she posted some of the pictures on Reddit, my story went viral with over 300,000 people all over the world following my story. I was featured on news sites like Huffington Post, ABC News, and People.com, and of course, our very own Fredericksburg.com! The greatest reward from this small burst of fame was meeting the numerous people in situations just like mine. Countless amazing individuals emerged, from longtime amputees to then 9  year old Aiden who was beginning to consider amputation.  That kid is awesome. The ability to reach out and help others on their journey as well as to learn from incredible athletes has shown me that there can be good things that come out of a bad situation.

FAST FORWARD TO TODAY

Two years and two additional surgeries for nerve and phantom pain later, I was able to truly start to enjoy the benefits of having a robot leg. I now play rugby on our local team, participate in races with Johnna on my ‘running blade’, wake-surf with my family, and, most importantly, snowboard. Everything seemed to lead up my trip to Copper Mountain, Colorado in January of 2017, where I had the opportunity to meet and train with the Adaptive Action Sports (AAS) team. I realized that just maybe, I was good enough at snowboarding to make something of it. Back in Virginia, I competed in a USASA Boardercross competition and not only placed first in both of my races in the adaptive division, but I also beat the other able-bodied competitors in my age division. I was then able to compete in the NORAM and IPC competitions in March in Colorado. For the 2017-2018 Winter Season, I joined the AAS snowboard team to travel to competitions in New Zealand, Netherlands, Finland, Colorado and Canada. I am currently ranked 13th worldwide in Lower Limb 2 Boardercross, and 15th in Banked Slalom. I am absolutely loving my time out here trianing and competeing full-time in Colorado, and am so thankful for all the people who have supported me on this journey!

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