EmpowerFest 2020 Goes Virtual, Connecting More People With Limb Loss and Limb Difference Than Ever Before
Even though we are apart, we’ve never been more connected, thanks to the power of virtual experiences like EmpowerFest 2020. Through its innovative and interactive online platform, this year’s event brought together more than 400 people from the limb loss and limb difference community for a day of support, activities, education, and fun. Featuring incredible guest speakers from coast to coast and attendees from all over the world, there was something for everyone: exercise classes, cooking classes, support groups, education panels, and more – all done virtually from the comfort of each attendee’s home.
Although EmpowerFest 2020 may have looked a little different this year, it couldn’t have come at a better time. The social isolation the pandemic brought with it has made it all the more difficult to stay connected, especially for those with limb loss and limb difference. So when the opportunity arose for people to learn from world-class prosthetists and connect with peers thriving with prosthetic technology, it was one many in the limb loss and limb difference community didn’t want to miss.
Even though this year’s event was virtual, it stayed true to its roots by focusing on exciting activities and education, with the most rewarding takeaway being the connections made with others. A true benefit of the event being online was that it brought more people together, from more places all over the world than any other EmpowerFest in the past.
The event took place on Saturday, November 7, and featured a packed schedule with something for everyone. The day kicked off with the incredible story of Elvis Tribute Artist Ray Guillemette, Jr., who has amazed and inspired people with his “A Ray of Elvis” show for more than 20 years. In addition to being internationally recognized for his talent, he also happens to be an above-knee amputee. After losing his left leg following a motorcycle accident in 2001, Ray found his way back to the stage due in large part to the support and care he received from his team of doctors, Hanger Clinic prosthetists, and peer visitors.
Ray’s message to EmpowerFest attendees was this:
As if Ray’s message wasn’t powerful enough, he then surprised the crowd by bringing together an incredibly talented band of people from the limb loss community to perform the Elvis song “Walk a Mile in My Shoes.” The performance was one for the ages and a truly memorable way to kick off the day.
After the Opening Ceremony, EmpowerFest really got going with its series of classes, panels, and support groups. Attendees were invited to join the sessions that were most relevant to them, with some focused on health and wellness and self-advocacy and others focused on componentry, pain management, and holistic care. There were also affinity breakout rooms where people could dive deeper on specific topics, and an exhibit hall where people could chat with Hanger Clinic and Amputee Coalition representatives.
Sprinkled throughout the day, we had the pleasure of getting to know two more of our Hanger Clinic patients who had incredible stories of resilience to share. The first was Paralympic Alpine Skier Stephani Victor whose life took an expected turn after a traumatic car accident in 1995. Eleven reconstructive surgeries later, she took her first adaptive skiing lesson and never looked back. Now a five-time Paralympic medalist, she talked about the grit and determination it took to move forward and recreate her life. She credited her coach and future husband Marcel Kuonen for seeing her for who she was and for her potential to do something great. She also thanked her prosthetist, Wendy Remington, CPO, for always ensuring she had the right technology to stay at the top of her game.
We also heard from US Army veteran turned yoga instructor Dan Nevins. Featured on an earlier blog post, his story was equally as powerful, yet very different. After losing both legs below the knee when an IED detonated beneath his vehicle, Dan found his will to move forward by centering his body and mind through yoga. After he spoke, he led the crowd through a yoga and meditation class, giving tips and tricks for varying mobility levels, and hosted a live Q&A session from his home.
When it was finally time for the day to come to a close, EmpowerFest organizers left us with a moment to remember – getting to see Winter, the dolphin featured in “Dolphin Tale,” up close and personal. We got to hear from the creators of her prosthetic tail, Kevin Carroll, MS, CP, FAAOP/D, and Dan Strzempka, CPO, and see and hear how Winter was doing live from the Florida Clearwater Marine Aquarium. We saw attendees gather their whole families young and old for this special event. It was truly the perfect way to end the day – seeing and feeling the power of our shared experience, which is what EmpowerFest is all about.
Save the Date! EmpowerFest 2021
EmpowerFest is coming to Austin, Texas in 2021. Save the date for August 27-29. Registration opens April 5. Stay in the know by signing up to receive email updates.