‘It Takes 80% of My Energy to Walk as a Bilateral Amputee, so I Focused on One Thing at a Time’

A meningococcal survivor's fitness journey.

by | Sep 27, 2021

Penny Taylor is 47 years old and a meningococcal survivor. She had both of her legs amputated from the knee down and was told by doctors that she wouldn’t walk again, but she proved them wrong – in 6 months she had started to walk. She has had osseointegration surgery on both legs (where a titanium rod is implanted into the tibia and over time they integrate to become part of you). Move With Us helped fund part of Penny’s surgery and she says that she is now the fittest and healthiest she has ever been – she can also adjust exercises in the app to cater for her ability and mobility. Penny works out from home 6 days a week, works full-time and is an active mum. Read Penny’s story below.

My name is Penny Taylor and I’m 48 years old. I work as a Tour Manager for Unique Holiday Tours, and I live in Napier, New Zealand

I was a busy working full-time mum, my children were 7 years & 3 years when I contracted meningococcal. I would walk every day for an hour, spin classes two to three times a week. The doctors thought that because I was reasonably fit, it helped to pull me through. My relationship with food was good I thought, but I have learnt so much more about food and what your body needs to be fuelled with since meningococcal and since the beginning of my strength rebuild-style training.

I now exercise 6 days a week plus around 5,000 steps a day. It’s always been about regaining my strength and probably the best Move With Us programs I have done where I have gained the most strength and so many highs within the challenges were Bikini Build 1.0 & 2.0, Move With Emma Home Transformation challenge & currently doing Bikini 4.0. To sum up these challenges, the splits are generally 3 x lower body, 1 x upper body, 2 x core circuits, and for cardio, I walk or ride my exercise bike.

My diet is high in protein to help with bone growth and protein feeds the wellbeing of my legs. I go through stages of eating the same thing all the time but generally, it consists of:

  • Breakfast

Currently, loving protein pancakes with fruit, or I have protein oats

  • Lunch

Salad with protein mainly chicken or eggs on an English muffin or I make my own version of a McMuffin 

  • Snack 

Cottage cheese on rice crackers or fruit

  • Dinner

I mix this up as need to cook for a family as well. 

  • Always protein and salad or vegs

I use the Move With Us recipes mostly for dinner ideas

  • Snack

Mini chocolate bar, I buy the 12 packs and allow myself 1 each night.

When I look back, I see the first 6 years were about surviving what had happened and adjusting to my new way of life. I poured myself into anything that I classed as ‘normal’ like working, running a house, being a parent, and adjusting the kids into what I could do and what I couldn’t.

It was a huge adjustment for everyone. 5 years ago, I went to Australia for osseointegration surgery which is ground-breaking technology and giving amputees incredible amounts of freedom and mobility. New Zealand doesn’t do the surgery for below-knee amputees.

I loved what I saw and couldn’t wait to get the surgery. I knew it would be two years of rehabilitation after the surgery, where I had to learn to walk all over again, and I basically had to go back to the start. It was a case of going back to the wheelchair in order to get to where I am today.

After the rehab, my mobility was mind-blowing and I was feeling so alive. As my mobility kept getting better, the more I did. But with osseointegration, jumping and running or anything that could impact the implant is advised against doing.

I looked at joining a gym, I went and looked at five different gyms where I lived and all of them said they couldn’t cater for me. I wasn’t asking for help, just to join up. I was so disheartened and one of my friends who is also an amputee introduced me to Move With Us. I signed up for home workouts and have never left.

The strength-based training was what I needed, and now it’s what I love and train 6 days a week all from home.

During my first transformation challenge I would do4 to 5 days of exercise per week but was very hit and miss on the nutrition.

It takes 80% of my energy to walk as a bilateral amputee, so to do normal daily activity and 4 to 5 workouts a week I was exhausted, to begin with. It was a matter of focussing on one thing at a time. I knew my journey wasn’t going to be a quick fix, I was prepared to chip away at my long-term goal.

I mixed it up with short-term goals. Once I got my energy levels up and could manage more and more, I started to focus on nutrition. Needing to have a high protein diet to fuel my legs and bone growth, I balanced the protein with around a 1500 calories per day diet.

Over the last two years, I have had diet breaks and higher calorie intake for periods of time and the Move With Us team has taught me so much about flexible eating which is based on 80% whole foods and 20% soul foods. I love this approach, it works, and you never feel like you are on a diet. I do weigh most things, otherwise, I am a bit heavy-handed and so it’s easy to overeat. I see it as a good habit, and it works for me.

Initially, I couldn’t do some of the exercises but the Move With Us app has a lot of exercise swaps or I learnt to break the exercise down to what I could manage. After I had completed a few challenges, I was understanding more about exercise swaps. It is only as hard as you want it to be.

I am 100% a much more balanced person, the endorphins you release from working out helps with everything. I feel the healthiest I have felt for years.

My advice for women who want to start but can’t find the motivation?

Create a routine and make it a non-negotiable commitment. Consistency is key, life can get busy but find the time and do it for you. Make a list of your goals and then break them into a smaller list and tick them off. I had a 2-year commitment to myself, and I am about to reset my goals with nearly having ticked off all of my goals. Celebrate your wins.

By Nikolina Ilic

Nikolina is the new web-obsessed Digital Editor at Men's and Women's Health, responsible for all things social media and .com. A lover of boxing, she has a mean punch inside and out of the ring. She was previously a Digital Editor at GQ and Vogue magazine.

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Earlier this year, it was confirmed that a women’s edition of the race will go ahead in 2022 that closely follows after the men’s race. According to Tour de France organiser, Christian Prudhomme, the women’s race will begin after the men’s Tour. As Prudhomme told The Guardian, “It will take place next year, that’s certain. It would have happened this year if it had not been for the Covid-19 pandemic, obviously, and above all if the Tokyo Olympics had not been after the [men’s] Tour, so the best riders may not be available. But the decision has been taken. There will be a Tour de France femmes in 2022 following closely after the [men’s] Tour.”

Now, the sport’s female athletes have been granted their first look at the 2022 race route which was recently unveiled in the Palais des Congres in Paris by newly appointed race director Marion Rousse. Even the unveiling was significant, with the elite women sitting alongside the peloton’s elite men in the Paris auditorium for the first time. It marks a shift in the landscape of cycling, one that puts women on an equal playing field as their male counterparts and signals a long-awaited leap in the profile of women’s cycling. Rousse described the “honour” of being the director of the women’s Tour de France, adding that: “The women’s races we have now are jewels to cherish.”

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