Murray resident Ryan Bahr is an avid hiker and prospective medical student completing his undergraduate work at the University of Utah. Oh, and if you care to know, he's also an amputee. The 21-year-old recently was a counselor at the Amputee Coalition's Paddy Rossbach Youth Camp, which is designed to help young amputees feel like any kid should: normal and accepted. The decision to help children who face similar struggles as Bahr seems to be an easy one for him. Perhaps, just as easy as the decision to amputate his right foot, which he made by simply saying, "Get rid of it."
What is your story? How did you become an amputee?
I was born with bilateral clubfeet, which means my feet were turned upward and inward. I had seven surgeries throughout my life on my right foot, and then at age 18, I electively decided to have it amputated. I was between two choices: either have a triple arthrodesis—which means they would fuse all three joints so that I would pretty much have dragged my foot with me everywhere I went, and with that comes no running, no hiking, no biking, which is what I really enjoy doing—or amputation. I knew from that point, amputation was what I wanted. In February of 2014, I had the right one amputated.
Was the choice to amputate an easy choice, per se?
When I was younger, I actually used to say, 'Cut if off.' My parents used to say, 'Be careful what you wish for.' For me, I knew I didn't want the foot. We used to go hiking as a family over spring break down in Zion National Park, and I couldn't do more than a mile without pain. I used to say, 'Leave me at the bottom,' but they would drag me to the top. Now with the amputation, I mean, I hiked 14 miles in Arches National Park this year, I did 10 with my sister in [Zion National Park] and we are planning on doing Havasupai Falls. With the amputation, I can do so much more than I used to. My dad was afraid to have me do it, but I was ready, and I said, 'Just get rid of it.'
What is the Amputee Coalition's Paddy Rossbach Youth Camp and how did you get involved as a counselor?
The National Amputee Coalition of America has for 10 years now, I think, done a camp for kids ages 10-18 in Ohio. They do five days for the kids, where they come out, each with any limb difference—it doesn't have to be amputation—and they do fun things to try and get them to see they can be normal. We went out as counselors two days before the kids and did team-building activities. I was with a co-counselor and we were [in charge of] 11- and 12-year-olds for those five days. I had 10 of them. We did ropes courses, canoeing, fishing, arts and crafts, running and sports, swimming, and had a dance for everybody. It's a big camp for everybody to come together and see there are other people like them. And for the kids, they see they aren't alone.
For you, what was the most meaningful part of the camp?
On the first day, everybody is so timid and shy. It's life-changing to see them be shy and not know each other—and then on the last day, they were one. The girls were asking guys for phone numbers, and the same with the guys. The dance, it's not really an ask-to-dance kind of thing, but the older kids were doing that. It's cool to see these kids come together and see that, hey, we can be friends, and even though we don't all live in the same place, we are the same.
What are your plans for future involvement in the amputee community?
Every year, they do this camp in July. I'll apply again. I'm planning to go to medical school, and I don't know what that will bring as far as being able to go to this camp. But I'll look at that when I'm actually in medical school. I really do it for the kids. It's not necessarily for me. I used to be 50-pounds overweight before my amputation. There are bigger kids with amputations out there, and they feel like they are teased more and not in the group. If I can even help one of them see that they are a person still, and they can be someone in the future, that makes me happy.