Imagine losing something so essential to life that you’d do just about anything to get it back. For Frances Osorio Rivera, despite having lost her left leg, that something was the all-important activity of kiteboarding. As a passenger in a car accident in 2011, Frances suffered trauma to her ankle that refused to heal and after multiple surgeries failed, her doctors assured her that amputation was the only option for the former combat medic.
According to Frances, the amputation haunts her every day, “Each step I take is marked by the sound of a prosthetic leg skidding across the ground.” Despite her newfound challenges, Frances is moving forward with her life in a positive direction, yet she’s quick to admit, “It hasn’t been easy; there are nights I wake up in terror, naively believing my left leg is still attached to my body, only to feel around and rediscover that frustrating stump.”
While doctors recommended Frances lead a less active lifestyle, she wasn’t willing to surrender her passion for kiteboarding. As she went about the process of relearning the sport she refers to as, “already difficult to pick up with two legs,” she admits there were times when she was tempted to give up. Frances gives a fair amount of credit to the Puerto Rican kite community that consistently went out of their way to help her figure out kiteboarding with one leg. The challenges of kiting with a prosthetic are many, as Frances points out, “I had to resist every habit I picked up as an able-bodied kiteboarder—my right leg had to learn to work twice as hard to keep my body upright and I was no longer able to tilt my ankles to land exactly how I wanted.” Watching Frances kiteboard is not for the squeamish or faint of heart. Each session starts with a forceful and lengthy tape job, attaching her prosthetic leg to her calf muscle with the use of industrial duct tape; from the moment she hits the water, there’s nothing slowing her down. Frances connects with her kite like the accident never happened, sticking powered kiteloops with brutal landings, launching unhooked raleys and air-bonking mangroves with fearless abandon.
And while Frances makes kiting with a prosthetic look like a walk in the park, it isn’t always easy. It’s not just physical but mental too. Often experiencing phantom pains—the sharp stabbing pains that seem to be coming from a body part that isn’t there—Frances has found ways to cope. She eats right, goes to the gym regularly and works a full-time job as a sales representative for Pryde Group Americas and Cabrinha, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of kiteboarding gear, which keeps her close to her passion and allows her to teach beginner lessons on the side.
Frances has found her greatest solace volunteering at retreats hosted by Vetscape and Wind Sports for Wounded Warriors, two nonprofits dedicated to helping veterans find a new passion for life through action sports. At Vetscape, Frances is the captain of the kiteboarding team with the overarching mission of ‘empowering veterans to find their next mission in life.’ As a mirror to her own experience, “there is nothing more encouraging than seeing somebody dealing with setbacks, while accomplishing something that seemed impossible.” Prior to the accident, Frances worked as a combat medic, so she has a unique perspective on the plight of those injured during military service. “My greatest joy comes from seeing veterans overcome these challenges, as we have a common bond forged in service to others and in some cases, a common understanding of the effects of trauma.” Having remastered the sport of kiteboarding, Frances has found her next mission: using her passion for kiteboarding to help veterans coping with the physical and mental distress that often comes post military service to create what she calls “stubbornly positive outcomes.”
Frances strongly urges veterans and/or others who are up for a challenge and wishing to give back to their community to visit www.vetscape.org.