“You inspired me to keep going when I lost my leg. Thank you.”
“I never met her, but she changed my life.”
“She had a huge impact on me and inspired me to push boundaries.”
“It was an honor to meet her. I’ll never forget it.”
“Sarah was, and always will be, my hero.”
That’s a very brief sampling of the comments people left on social media to express condolences over the passing of Sarah Doherty. Dozens of equally heartfelt tributes were posted on Facebook and Instagram, and they capture Doherty’s impact on the limb loss community (and beyond) with far greater fidelity than any list of her achievements could. She achieved much, to be sure. But Doherty’s truest worth is measured not in the summits she conquered, but in the hearts she touched.
That number will continue to increase indefinitely, despite Doherty’s unexpected death this month at age 63. SideStix, the high-performance crutches she developed with her husband, will continue enabling amputees to stay active, pursue their goals, and expand their horizons. “SideStix are designed for long term, active crutch users to preserve joint health,” wrote amputee soccer star Nico Calabria on Instagram, adding: “Sarah modeled what a happy and active life as a crutch walker could look like.”
She didn’t only do so through SideStix, although that’s the most enduring example. By the time Doherty started working on SideStix in 2003, she’d been crutching happily and actively for about 30 years, while redefining the possibilities of what amputees can accomplish. Her 1985 ascent of Denali—the first ever by an amputee on crutches—made national headlines. She also crutched up Mt. Rainier, Kilimanjaro, Koma Kulshan, and who knows how many other high peaks. Along the way she hiked the West Coast Trail and the Camino de Santiago. For good measure, she also represented Team USA as a member of the nation’s first Paralympic ski team.
But while she routinely rose to great heights, Doherty made an equal (or greater) impact at ground level as a pediatric occupational therapist. She spent a quarter of a century in practice, helping very young kids (ages five and under) and their families make healthy adaptations to a broad range of physical and neurological disabilities. “Creating specific tools is the key to maximizing an individual’s potential for choices in activity and independence,” she wrote on her webpage. She created SideStix for the world; she crafted the same kinds of solutions, one child at a time, as an OT.
In an Instagram post announcing Doherty’s passing, SideStix wrote: “We could all aspire to be a bit more like Sarah, with her resilient spirit, her kind heart, and her unwillingness to let fear hold her back.” Watch the video (hat tip: StoryHive) to hear her story in her own words. Peace to Doherty’s family and friends.