Patel’s current fitness obsession is CrossFit. Just a month after her first WOD, she agreed to participate in SealFit, a grueling, 13-hour fundraiser event that paired 15 adaptive athletes with 15 CEOs for a workout by a team of Navy SEALs.
Though she was about 15 pounds heavier at that time, in just three months of training for the event, Patel transformed her body. “The event was 13 hours of craziness—the SEALs took away our prosthetics and had us do fitness challenges. It was intense, but a lot of fun.”
In the end, the experience solidified her passion for CrossFit. “I’ll do it for the rest of my life,” Patel says. “In just 15 to 20 minutes, you’re panting like a dog, without having to spend an hour at the gym.”
Patel says her boyfriend now, a police officer, is a major source of motivation. “He always tells me, ‘You have to have your next goal,’” Patel says.
One impressive goal he helped her achieve is training for and hiking the 30-mile Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, which they completed together in June. “Besides the half-marathon, it was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” she says.
And Patel already has her next fitness feat lined up: Hiking Mount Kilimanjaro in December 2015. She's in the process of raising $100,000 to organize a expedition of amputees, a physician, a therapist, a prosthetist, a journalist, and a videographer to make the trek. “One amputee is a 13-year-old boy. If we can reach the summit, I know it’s going to change his life,” Patel says.
Whether she’s climbing mountains or completing a WOD, Patel is an inspirational figure in the San Antonio community. She’s the founder of the San Antionio Amputee Support Group, has conducted hundreds of peer-to-peer meetings to instill hope in new amputees, and has even led statewide legislative efforts to pass a bill for better insurance coverage for prosthetics. This year, she started a non-profit which raises money to provide indigent amputees without insurance with prosthetic limbs, basic home modifications (like wheelchair ramps or wider doorways), car mods (like hand controls for a bilateral amputee or wheelchair lifts), and trips to educational conferences.
Giving back has helped her too. “As I got deeper into philanthropic work, I focused even more on letting go of my insecurities so I could continue to be a role model,” Patel says.
In April 2013 Patel traveled to Boston to visit victims of the marathon bombing. “I knew I would be working with females, so I picked out my clothes and shoes carefully,” she says. “It was so important for me to show that losing a limb does not mean you have to dress frumpy and wear tennis shoes the rest of your life.” After seeing her walk into their hospital rooms full of confidence, many patients told her it was exactly what they needed to see to know they’ll be okay.
For anyone struggling with a disability, Patel says to focus on rebuilding yourself, physically and emotionally. “Weed out the negative people in your life, and surround yourself with positive, supporting people,” she says.
And while it has been a work in progress, Patel says she no longer struggles with self-image issues, and she now celebrates her achievements, despite of (or rather because of) her disability. “I used to wear a cosmetic cover over the prosthesis, but I don’t anymore,” she says. “I wear shorts and knee lengths skirts now. I want to show that I’m so proud of who I am, disability and all.”
For more information about Patel's nonprofit, please email firstname.lastname@example.org