Sue’s Story

Jun 2, 2023

6-Mile Race after 6 Months with Prosthesis
“Tape it up and go” was Sue Henneberry’s approach to injury as a high school athlete. At 55, her resolve to conquer challenges is even stronger. After undergoing a lower left leg amputation in August of 2022, Sue tackled her rehabilitation by setting one goal after another: walking, stairs, (taking the legendary Libby Hill Park stairs twice, because “once might just be a fluke,” she said), rock climbing, rowing, and running. In April, just six months after getting her prosthesis, Sue ran all six miles of the Ukrop’s Monument Avenue 10K in Richmond, with her Mission Gait family cheering her every step of the way.

Sue came to the Gait Center for physical therapy having done her research. Unlike those who suffer injuries or illnesses that put them in a “life or limb” situation, Sue said, she faced a continual degradation of her quality of life from the combined effects of Long COVID and the autoimmune disease, Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS). Years ago, she had numerous surgeries and spent eight years on crutches while battling nerve damage from CRPS. She got back on her feet, but, in 2021, she came down with COVID-19 and developed pneumonia. Long COVID ensued and triggered her CRPS, which caused intractable wounds that ravaged her left foot. Amidst more surgery and heavy antibiotics, her overall health declined. After consulting two prosthetists, Sue made the hardest decision she’s ever made, and asked her doctor to amputate her lower leg.

“Sports is my way of really trying to make this leg work,” Sue said. “I grew up on athletics because both of my parents were PE teachers and coached many sports. I had a mentality that getting better and better, stronger and stronger, requires continued repetition of fundamentals.” Through her prosthetist, Sue had met Robin Yoder and Carol Baker, also amputees, who pointed her toward the Gait Center and have mentored her ever since. She found a like-minded crew in this supportive community, and soon signed onto the team at Mission Gait Foundation as its interim administrator. She’s a fitting role model for patients, as she embodies the organization’s belief that a person’s abilities will always outweigh their disability.

After climbing the long, steep stairs at Libby Hill Park for the first time on her prosthetic leg, Sue said, “I stood at the top and cried with joy. This was something I used to take for granted. Now it was a true accomplishment.” She celebrated with a beer, then looked for her next challenge.

Completing the Ukrop’s 10K felt even more gratifying. Sue trained with Sportable, a Richmond nonprofit that makes sports accessible for those with disabilities. “I used to volunteer for Sportable,” she explained. “Now I’m on the other side of the fence.” She successfully managed the race’s turns, the cobblestones, and the changing of her prosthesis, as well as a few curveballs, like a carpet of discarded water cups near hydration stations. One of Sue’s four daughters was waiting at the finish to interview her for a documentary she was making for a college class. That she’d chosen her mother’s perseverance as her subject was especially poignant for Sue, as her daughter had been just a year old when CRPS began to impact her life. “She had only known me in pain,” Sue said. “But you’ve got to keep pushing through. You’ve got to find the good in everything.” She wears a sticker on the back of her prosthetic leg that says, “Keep moving forward.”

Sue’s next goal is to ride a bike, which used to be second nature to her. She’s found inspiration and community with those she’s met through disability: a stroke victim who can finally walk again after nearly a decade, a golfer who’s developed a one-armed swing, and many others. “You can laugh and cry with them,” she said. “You realize you can still do things you enjoy or try new ones. Who knew?” Sue has given pickleball a try; it’s not easy to backpedal on a prosthetic leg, but that’s why she wanted to play – it’s perfect for agility, she said. Having completed a 10K, she’s discussed taking the challenge up a notch with her friends. “Maybe a Tough Mudder race, or how about a Spartan?” she said. Why not?