I’m Joe Pleban
and some of you may know me for my 'Please Cut Here' Tattoo...one of the only non-permanent, permanent tattoo. In 2014, I got my left foot amputated and before hand I had a bucket list of items to do with my left foot, including a tattoo.
But let's start at the beginning.
before the amputation
I am a three-year amputee who has a chance to snowboard for the United States in the Paralympics next year. Did I ever think I would have an opportunity to compete at a professional level in the sport I love? NOPE. But, here we are!
Born in California and raised in Virginia by my parents with two younger sisters, my family was never lacking adventure. Traveling, scuba diving, hiking national parks, swimming; I grew up with the attitude that I could try just about anything. I love all sports and the success of competing well, but especially the camaraderie that came with being on a team.
All throughout middle and high school I competed in swimming, eventually making the top 16 fastest 50-meter freestylers in Virginia. When I attended Christopher Newport University for college, I switched to rugby for the brotherhood, tackles and tries. The bonds I built as a member of my college rugby team I will have forever. Those college teammates/goofballs are still some of my best friends to this day.
But the sport I never strayed from is snowboarding. From the time I learned, I have spent every family vacation to Vermont and snowy weekend to Snowshoe on the slopes and in the terrain parks. I have even had the opportunity to board in California on some of the most professionally challenging terrain parks. I have enjoyed every second of it. However, with sports, injury usually follows.
In my years growing up, ankle injuries remained a constant in my life. It seemed no matter what I did, I always ended up in pain and on crutches. On my high school graduation day, I broke my ankle wakeboarding. When it refused to heal properly, the doctors popped open my ankle and found out that I wasn’t just injury-prone, but I had a very rare joint disease called PVNS that caused benign tumors to invade my ankle joint. I spent six years enduring numerous surgeries, radiation therapy, pain medication and way too much time on crutches. PVNS destroyed my ankle, and all of the things I loved to do were slowly taken away because of pain. At the age of 23, I was walking with a cane.
The doctors gave me two options: ankle fusion, which one doctor told me “you’ll have enough movement to get out of the way of a moving car”, or, amputation. Well, you know which one I chose.
THE LAST ADVENTURES OF JOE'S LEFT FOOT BUCKET LIST
As you can imagine, it was the hardest decision I have ever made. But, in true Pleban fashion, my family started to make jokes about it immediately, from endless Halloween costume ideas to helping me get my first non- permanent tattoo: a dotted line and scissors topped with “please cut here” on my ankle a month before my surgery. The surgeons were surprised.
Along with the tattoo was an extensive bucket list of adventures to have before the surgery. My fiancé, Johnna, and I went to music festivals, skydiving, paint balling, scuba diving and much more. It was a great farewell to my left foot before my surgery in June of 2014 at Georgetown University Hospital. They did not let me keep my severed foot. I tried. Something about Virginia State Laws.
In an effort to keep my family and friends up-to-date on my journey, my sister created a Facebook page called ‘The Last Adventures of Joe’s Left Foot’. We enjoyed posting pictures of all our adventures and the numerous ways we could cut off my foot. When she posted some of the pictures on Reddit, my story went viral with over 300,000 people all over the world following my story. I was featured on news sites like Huffington Post, ABC News, and People.com, and of course, our very own Fredericksburg.com!
The greatest reward from this small burst of fame was meeting the numerous people in situations just like mine. Countless amazing individuals emerged, from longtime amputees to then 9 year old Aiden who was beginning to consider amputation. That kid is awesome. The ability to reach out and help others on their journey as well as to learn from incredible athletes has shown me that there can be good things that come out of a bad situation.
FAST FORWARD TO TODAY
Two years and two additional surgeries for nerve and phantom pain later, I was able to truly start to enjoy the benefits of having a robot leg. I now play rugby on our local team, participate in races with Johnna on my ‘running blade’, wake-surf with my family, and, most importantly, snowboard.
Everything seemed to lead up my trip to Copper Mountain, Colorado in January of 2017, where I had the opportunity to meet and train with the Adaptive Action Sports (AAS) team. I realized that just maybe, I was good enough at snowboarding to make something of it. Back in Virginia, I competed in a USASA Boardercross competition and not only placed first in both of my races in the adaptive division, but I also beat the other able-bodied competitors in my age division. I was then able to compete in the NORAM and IPC competitions in March in Colorado, causing me to be nationally ranked 9th for Adaptive Boardercross.
For the 2017-2018 Winter Season, I joined the AAS snowboard team to travel to competitions in New Zealand, Netherlands, Finland, Colorad and Canada. I have been given an amazing opportunity to try to qualify for the U.S. Paralympic snowboarding team, and I do not intend to waste it!
VIDEOS ABOUT JOE'S STORY
To have a hope at this endeavor, I need your support.
In one season of living in Lake Tahoe and riding daily, I progressed from doing a 180 to throwing rodeo flips off of professional jumps. With the ability to practice and compete in a professional environment, I am confident that I will continue to progress in my adaptive snowboarding career. My goal is not just to gain sponsorships to help my adaptive snowboarding career, but to also spread my story and experience into the ever-growing adaptive community. My purpose in this is to inspire others with disabilities by bringing my abilities and talents to a professional and international level.