Making fresh tracks |

Making fresh tracks

John Gardner
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
John Gardner/ Citizen Telegram

Monday morning, a single set of cross-country skiing tracks in the fresh snow at Deerfield Park cut a circular path through a portion of the field and stopped at a solitary man sitting quietly in a wiry folding chair.

Despite below freezing temperatures, sweat beads gathered on James Gerloff’s neck and brow.

“Well, I made one trip around,” he said, “but I’m pretty worn out already.”

Gerloff, 63, was understandably tired. Monday was only the fourth time he has ever tried cross-country skiing. Well, standing up, anyway.

“I’ve done sit-down cross-country for 35 years,” Gerloff said. “But stand up, I only started last Thursday.”

Gerloff, a Vietnam veteran, had his left leg amputated at the hip after sustaining an injury in the Vietnam War, 40 years ago. He was enlisted from 1965-1970 in the U.S. Army. He spent close to two years in the hospital after losing his leg and was discharged in 1972. He said that he never had a prosthetic leg before, because using one would just slow him down.

“To me the leg was always too slow,” he said. “With my crutches I can step out and go.”

The new leg has slowed him down a little he said, because he’s had to concentrate on walking again.

“The leg will only go forward so fast,” he said.

But not having a prosthetic leg has never stopped him from being active in sports such as cross-country skiing and even golf. Gerloff is a course ranger during the summer months and plays every chance he gets. He’s looking forward to playing more.

Initially, Gerloff said that he was looking for a way to improve his golf game, and was considering a golf cart that would accommodate an amputee. Until now, he’s just golfed balancing on one leg.

“I’ve got tremendous balance,” he said.

But he was given the option of receiving the new high-tech leg through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“So, I said, ‘I want a new leg,'” he said.

Eight weeks ago, he got one. And it’s more high-tech than Gerloff, who doesn’t even have an e-mail address currently, expected.

“I’ve got a computer leg,” he said.

The leg was manufactured by a German-based company named Otto Bock, which specializes in prosthetics. The prosthetic leg includes what is called a C-Leg microprocessor controlled knee joint and an Otto Bock Helix3D Hip Joint System. The leg is designed to respond more like a natural leg and responds to pressure placed on the leg by Gerloff, and his hip movements. Gerloff said the leg is worth $139,000, which was paid by the Veterans Affairs because he is 100 percent disabled.

After 40 years of getting around with only one leg and crutches, Gerloff was ready to try a prosthetic due to some physical health issues. He said that he has damage to his right knee and suffers from arthritis in his lower back. The new leg should help relieve some of the discomfort he feels from the added pressure on his body from having only one leg.

He’s had the leg for only a little more than eight weeks. He walks around town with it to get used to the motion of walking with two legs again. Eventually, he’ll wear the leg from when he gets up in the morning until he goes to bed at night. But for now, he’s just getting a feel for it.

“Right now, I’m wearing it about four or five hours a day,” he said.

He’s even been able to navigate stairs with the new leg, but it was the skis that he couldn’t wait to get strapped into.

“It’s getting used to the movement,” he said as he trudged through the snow on Monday.

Gerloff plans on competing in the cross-country skiing event this year at the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic in Snowmass the last week of March. Gerloff has participated in the clinics for close to two decades.

He’ll still participate in the sit-down cross-country events at this year’s clinic.

However, thanks to the new leg, he’s looking forward to the new challenge of standing up and making some fresh tracks.

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