Forrest Gump. Image: Parade.

How Forrest Gump Changed My Life

The movie about a dim Southern boy accidentally running through history is the reason I have two legs.


I have two legs because of Forrest Gump. That is deeply embarrassing, but true.

In the summer of 1994, I sat in a theater by myself and sobbed my way through an awful movie that convinced me not to have my leg amputated. I say deeply embarrassing partly because I was 15! Grown, practically. I had marshaled facts, gathered opinions. I had made a very adult decision and it was obliterated by one musical swell.

And also it’s embarrassing because, in addition to the myriad ways in which others have pointed out Forrest Gump is terrible, Forrest (Tom Hanks) and his foil, Lt. Dan (Gary Sinise), both show us that physical disability is an aberration waiting to be fixed — and that just enough will power, encouragement, and magical thinking will cure anything. I knew even then this was horseshit. But at the time, I had too much on my mind to notice.

My parents, being enlightened, left the choice to me whether to have another round of surgery or to amputate my right leg below the knee. I’d have a nice long stump, which the doctor seemed to think was a good thing.

Better to fit a prosthetic? Easier to learn to walk? I probably knew at the time, but I don’t remember. From amputation to healing and shrinking the stump, being fitted for a prosthetic and learning to walk, I was told, would take about 18 months. A bit longer to learn to run.

Have you seen Gattaca (1997)? My surgeries were like that. Screengrab from Netflix.

A couple of things are important to know here. First, 18 months wasn’t very long in my medical experience. I’d been having surgeries for a decade.

Second, I’ve never been able to run. I mean, surely the mechanics are there in my body, but, like, I don’t know how? I know that’s weird. I mean, you don’t need to know how to run. Someone chases you, and you just run. Like Forrest. I guess I hadn’t been chased enough as a child because I couldn’t figure out how to run.

I’m a tad fragile as well, and running was actually dangerous for me. I had broken my leg swimming, walking, and sitting in a hallway. Needless to say, my doctors were not enthusiastic about my triathlon dreams.

Still, I’ve always been obsessed with the idea of running. How easy is it work out or de-stress or just run away when you can run? You literally just put your shoes on and run. From wherever you are. It’s amazing.

Anyway, an orthotist and amputee I talked to had almost made the Olympic team as a sprinter, so I figured I’d be able to jog. And once I got a good prosthetic or two, I would never have surgery again.

Also, maybe people would get that it was rude to chase me down the street to talk to me about my “condition.” I was already utterly accustomed to being stared at and asked inappropriate personal questions, so that wasn’t a problem. Amputation had very serious appeal.
So I decided to do it.

But then Jenny (Robin Wright) tells Forrest to run away from his bullies, braces be damned. And I fell prey to the magical thinking, the Hollywood melodrama, and I changed my mind. I opted for more surgeries and no amputation, because the movie about the dim Southern boy accidentally running through history changed my life.

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