Delaney is the daughter of Gina and Mike Dunlap (the same Mike Dunlap who is the head coach of the Loveland High School boys soccer team) and comes by her love of sports naturally. Her mom is no slouch having held the college career scoring record for Thomas More University women’s soccer. You get the idea, young girl growing up surrounded by parents who enjoy sports and are active athletes. The difference is this: Delaney was diagnosed with a congenital condition which resulted in the decision to amputate her left leg when she was just 18 months old. That was a beginning for Delaney and the Dunlap’s, not an ending
Fast forward 10 years to November 2020. Delaney and the Dunlap’s headed to Amputee Blade Runners (ABR) in Nashville, Tennessee to get fitted for a new leg. ABR helps amputees get improved prosthetic “running legs” free of charge. It is a non-profit organization started about 10 years ago by amputee Ryan Fann and Aaron Fitzsimmons for the sole purpose of helping people like Delaney. Joshua Southard is the executive director and only employee of ABR which is made up of all volunteers.
“We’re helping because we want to help,” said Southard. “We really are in this to help people because we like helping people.”
They’ve helped more than 300 people in the 10 years since they started. Southard says they help about 25-30 new amputees each year. In that same 10 year span, Delaney Dunlap was growing up playing soccer, softball, golf, and practicing gymnastics and snowboarding. She met one of the prosthetists who volunteers with ABR on a beach in South Carolina. That led to the trip to Nashville to be fitted for a new prosthetic leg. Southard says Delaney already had a lot going for her, but their goal is to help the person reach their highest potential.
“Once we have someone like Delaney,” Southard explained, “our expectation is to keep helping them as they grow. We want to be there. We try to teach independence as much as possible; arm parents with knowledge to pass on to take care of things themselves.”
Delaney, who will turn 12 on December 11, confirmed the sincerity of the efforts of the ABR volunteers after she returned home with her new leg.
“They volunteer and put their full time into it,” said Delaney who also learned a lot of new things about her leg. “I didn’t know to rotate the sock and the original sock was moldy and dry rotted making my old leg rub and causing the blade to crack. I learned how to adjust height and replace the grip on the foot.”
In the past, any adjustments would have meant a trip to the prosthetist. Gina Delaney did not attempt to explain why the people who made her “old leg” didn’t teach them anything about the sock, height adjustments or other maintenance for her leg.
“ABR will Google Meet anytime,” said Gina. “They’ve already helped so much. If there was any issue with the old leg, we just had to keep running down for help. ABR wants Delaney to be independent.”
Personal care and sharing of knowledge for the long-term goes beyond the immediate benefits outlined by ABR. The prosthetists are making legs which are better on skin, have better moisture control to help avoid blistering and are more durable with an expectation to last 12-24 months compared to just 6 months with a leg similar to Delaney’s old leg. Participating in the process of making her new leg was another big benefit for her. Delaney created a video of the process you can watch here. Here’s how Delaney explained the process:
“First thing, they made marks on my leg and then they rubbed plaster on it,” she said. “They cut it off.”
To help get the plaster mold off, Justin Darm, the prosthetist asked her to wiggle her toes. “I don’t have any toes, I can’t do that,” she told him. Then they could see her muscles working to do it anyway. The next thing we saw on the video was the mixing of the plaster for the mold of the test leg to make sure of a good fit. What was it like for 11 year old Delaney to help make her own leg?
“It was way different,” Delaney said. “I never saw what was going on when they were making a leg. I had no idea what happened. I didn’t know how many steps there were. I thought they just made a mold, made my skin tone and then they were done. I didn’t know how much stuff went into it.”
Delaney knows a lot more now and has taken the time to share it with all of us in a video. It’s a way for Delaney to share what Amputee Blade Runners is doing for people like her. The video shows the process including the Pelite foam insert which is a key to her new leg being better on her skin than the sleeve with a screw insert to hold her old prosthetic leg on. She explained how they used measurements to fit the foam and how all she has to do is “just slide my leg in”. It is lighter at about a 1.5 pounds compared to 3 pounds. She tested the leg.
“I went to a park and walked around,” said Delaney. “At first, it felt awkward, but then I could tell I was walking a lot better. I tried my old leg and could tell the difference. The new leg felt way better. It was lighter; another aspect how it’s easier to walk.”
Delaney says she had a new leg in four days from ABR compared to two weeks to replace her old leg in the past. She shared some funny stories about the differences she’s already noticing with the new leg. One of the funniest involves the benefit of the new sweat absorbing Pelite foam compared to the old sleeve.
“When I took it off, it was really stinking,” she said. “It was really gross when I took it off.”
The old sleeve would also get “annoying” air bubbles during the school day. Her friend would get the air bubbles out for her at school. On the ride home from Nashville, they told her there wouldn’t be air bubbles. She said “Aww” and they guessed it was because she was going to miss popping those bubbles. There’s an interesting back story on that special Pelite foam too. Turns out the company manufacturing the Pelite foam is based right here in Cincinnati. Joshua Southard, the ABR executive director is hoping Delaney and the Dunlap’s will get to meet them once the pandemic is over.
Another thing Delaney made sure to include in her video was learning to stand with equal weight on both legs. In the past she always leaned on her real leg. At ABR, they taught her doing that can cause trouble with your hips. They taught her to stand with equal weight – and told Gina to kick her in the back of the leg as a reminder if she catches Delaney leaning. For the record, Gina says she already had some fun with that. Learning to put weight on her prosthetic leg turned out to be a highlight for Southard too.
“The biggest fun moment that week,” Southard said, “was Delaney, within a few minutes, standing just on her prosthetic side with her other foot in the air.”
“I was able to stand on it,” Delaney said. “Now I realize it feels better on my real leg.”
Gina Dunlap noticed the difference for her daughter in that same moment.
“Getting lined up hips, her foot facing forward all helped,” Gina said. “She was able to balance on her prosthetic. She never could do it before.”
ABR noted her left knee is higher than her right knee; the two don’t line-up. Along with the original congenital condition diagnosed 11 years ago, ABR gave Delaney a new diagnosis. They also gave her hip exercises which help with flexing and strength. On her video, Delaney expressed gratitude to Amputee Blade Runners for making a “Life-changing” difference for her. What exactly does that mean to an active 11 year old athlete?
“With my other leg, running wasn’t easy for me,” Delaney explained. “Soccer and softball were difficult, this leg is better.”
Delaney’s video shows her demonstrating some of her gymnastics exercises including landing an aerial move on her new left leg, performing a back handspring, round-off handspring and getting closer to landing the round-off with a twist she’s been working on. Gymnastics is not even number one for this budding athlete. She plays softball, she enjoys snowboarding and golf, but soccer is numero uno #1 for her. She is eager to get back on the soccer field when soccer season returns.
“I’m very excited,” said Delaney. “I just had skills training. It was much easier to run. The new leg is lighter and made it easier to maneuver the ball; with my new foot forward, I can kick on the laces instead of sideways. I haven’t done softball yet, but I’ll get around the bases better.”
Delaney is most thankful to Amputee Blade Runner for her new leg. She knows what a difference it has already made in her life. She knows the difference they can make for others like her and wants to help. The Dunlap’s have already shared the connection with another girl Delaney met through gymnastics and ABR is working to help that family too.
“I think ABR is amazing because you get it free,” Delaney said. “It is really cool because some families don’t have as much money and can’t afford a better leg. They have to stick with a leg with no full potential. With ABR, you get your full potential. They are very patient with you, very patient and understanding.”
Click here to watch Delaney’s video of the making of her new leg (Runtime = 4 minutes)
Click here to watch Amputee Blade Runners video of Delaney (Runtime = 8 minutes)
Go to www.amputeebladerunners.com to learn more