I met Ray Klomp last summer at an Össur/Challenged Athletes Foundation mobility clinic in Denver.
The guest of honor at that event—Clayton Simon, recipient of his very first running blade—was about 70 years younger than Ray. The Paralympic runners who helped lead the program were 45 years younger, and the oldest participants (aside from Ray) were 20 years his junior.
But I doubt anybody enjoyed themselves more than Ray did that day.
A bilateral amputee at 77, he wasn’t there to work toward any ambitious goals. He took part in all the strength, balance, and flexibility exercises, putting forth enough effort to work up a sweat. When the event leaders set up the cones for the running drills, Ray took a seat and offered quiet encouragement as the rest of the field labored through their paces. He spent the next hour sipping lemonade and cheering on his fellow amputees from the sidelines, the very picture of contentment.
Ray’s running days may be behind him, but he’s still cruising through life at a brisk pace. Staying active isn’t just about physical fitness, he told me. It’s about putting your mind to something and sticking with it.
In Ray’s case, that means restoring vintage Chevy Corvairs from the early 1960s. A lifelong auto buff, he ignored his doctor’s advice to equip his car with hand controls when he lost his first (right) leg to diabetes ten years ago. Instead, he taught himself to operate the gas and brake with his new prosthesis. A couple years later Ray learned to operate the clutch with a prosthesis, too, after his left leg had to be amputated.
“There are things I can’t do anymore,” he says. “I just move past those and keep pushing. I’ve had some bad days; I’m not going to say everything is rosy all the time. But you can’t let it keep you down.”
You can learn more about Ray beginning on page 14 in “Better With Age,” our feature about adapting to limb loss as an older adult. His attitude is strikingly similar to the mindsets displayed by the young, athletic amputees featured in our two Winter Parlaympics features (pages 25 and 28). Like Ray, these competitors find purpose and meaning by committing themselves to something they love. It’s the momentum they generate in their minds that really counts, not the initial push out from the starting gate.
These days, when Ray’s on his back under the chassis of one of his Corvairs, he usually usually doffs his legs entirely. “It seems kind of silly,” he says, “but it works best that way. You just adapt.”
Whatever it takes to keep the motor running and the wheels on the road.