Outside the Ramada

Four Days in Chicago

Ian Gregson

ACA Conference June 12-15, 1998
The Amputee Coalition of America Conference proved once again that putting four hundred amputees together in the same hotel is a pretty good idea. However, it was obvious from day one that the members of the St Johns Amputee listserv had a distinct advantage over the other amps in attendance, we already knew each other without ever meeting.

Day One June 11

Travel: Almost everyone was delayed in arrival by air due to a significant thunderstorm that lodged over the Chicago area for the day. I arrived on the "red-eye" from Reno at 5am. I spent the first half of the day in the lobby of the Holiday Inn waiting for a room. I was awoken by Al Pike at one point from then on we waited in tandem.

By about 5pm just about everyone had arrived and the presence from the amputee listserv was significant. Pat from Portage, Indiana had us all scheduled for a BBQ at her place. The road trip to Portage was significant as it was my first experience in Chicago traffic. The 90 minute trek also got one vehicle lost, they eventually turned up.

The food at Pat's BBQ was incredible. Those that had met before caught up on various issues and we started to put faces to online names and personalities. The bbq was a great kick-off to what would be an incredible weekend of learning and just having fun.

Day Two June 12

Registration got started at about 9am and we started to meet the folks that had missed the bbq. The opening event was fairly low-key with speeches by ACA President Patty Rossbach and a speech from Paralympian Al Mead. The latter created a somewhat mixed reaction, proving that what inspires some does not for others.

Sessions started immediately after the opening. I attended the Town Hall meeting for Support Group Leaders hosted by Georgie Maxfield. This session gave opportunity for the support group operators to voice the experiences and learn from each others mistakes.

I also tried my hand at rollerblading with Casey Pieretti. As it was my first time I was a little nervous, just glad the carpet was soft and the pads and guards worked well! Ideally I would liked to have seen another AK to see how they skated. Many of the BK's seemed to pick it up quickly.

The evening featured entertainment, the highlight of which was George Valasquez' tap dancing in the roaring 20's theme. George has an incredible outlook on life and he expresses himself perfectly through his dancing.

Day Three June 13

Promised to the busiest day for everyone. The exhibits opened and I shared a table with Al Pike and Tony van der Waarde, getting set up was the main order of the morning. The exhibits opened at 10am and the amputees present caught up with the latest technologies.

Not only does the exhibits give the amps a chance to see new stuff but also for enterprising amps like myself to meet up with many people I have dealt with on a professional basis over the last two years. I also used the fact that so many progressively minded exhibitors were in one place at the same time.

After dinner the exhibits continued and I ran out of brochures and business cards.

I also had a role to play with Kath Duncan's Australian TV crew. I acted as tour guide and pointed out significant developments in prosthetics. After an hour or so of filming Kath Duncan, Steve Kurzman and I found a quiet sport for an interview, which basically turned in to a two on one on why Ian Gregson didn't like "devotees" too much.

Saturday evening numerous folks from the St. Johns List made good on their open invitation to attend the Fascination dance being held at the Ramada. Fascination is a "social" group formed by double BK Bette Hagluund in Chicago some thirty years ago.

It was with some trepidation that about twenty of us made the trek to the Ramada. Our trepidation was confirmed as several list members went in advance and felt completely set on as the walked in, they left even before we arrived.

The Fascination meeting seemed to be attended by well dressed men over the age of 50 and numerous ladies of different ages. A number of the devotees had already made their presence felt at the ACA's Holiday Inn. Peter Schlegar had once again approached several women, proving once again his lack of social skills matched his audacity in believing that women might actually be attracted to him. Others such as Mike Freeman simply hung around the Holiday Inn, skulking in the back ground, hoping not to be noticed and failing. The devotee presence at the ACA was higher than in 1996, presumably since the Fascination meeting was scheduled at the same time.

Organiser Bette Hagluund seemed to be a genuinely talented woman whose superior social skills seemed out of place with Fascination group. However, she is dedicated to bringing amputees and those who are sexually stimulated by them together. I felt however that Bette could have also utilised her skills more effectively around the ACA.

Al Pike & Ian Gregson seek enlightenment at the Ramada
We were also entertained at the Ramada by the science fiction convention in progress at the same time. Some of those prosthetic parts matched our own in quality and workmanship!

On returning to the Holiday Inn some chose to call it a night and some headed off to the hotel night club to party until the early hours.

Day Four June 14

My prosthetist claims I can and should walk better, so in attending the Gait Analysis Clinic, I was hoping to solve some problems. After a few minutes of video taping and chat the problem was solved. All I have to do now is remember!

I also attended Bob Gailey's "Functional Assessment evaluation". This is an university study to give professionals some standards on how to assess functional ability for insurance and medicare coverage purposes.

The golf class was well attended. Golf is by far the most popular recreational sport for amputees, with thousands of players in North America. Dan Cox's expert instruction got everyone clued in to the attraction of the sport.

Outside the Museum of Science & Industry
Sunday afternoon caught a van load of amputees heading off to downtown Chicago to try and find the Museum of Science and Industry. After skirting around downtown to find the entrance to Lakeshore Drive, we finally made it to the destination.

Of all the peculiar coincidences I ran in to Paralympic athlete and double AK Kris Lenzo in the museum. I had not seen Kris since 1984, turns out he had never heard of the ACA, a reminder of the work yet to be done.

On the way back to the freeway we got lost in the south side of Chicago, which was a little scary. Burned out apartments and gangs of youths hanging around corners reminded us there are people far worse off than us and that skin colour and employability can be a bigger handicap than any amputation.

By the time we got back to the Holiday Inn it was time for our final dinner and a few good byes. It almost felt as if we didn't really have to say good bye to other list members, since we would be chatting via e-mail for the rest of the year.

What was significantly noticeable was the number of listmembers who attended the meeting:

Bruce Jaster
Arthur Jones
Ralph Fowler
Sandy & Rich Friend
Kathy Spozio
Kati Rooney
Stacey Asby
Lee & Charlene Myles
Tony van der Waarde
Al Pike
Ted Trower
George Uzymirski
Ian Gregson
Patty Johnson
Steve Kurzman
Todd Cignetti
Aleksander Zworski
Willow Leenders
Carol S. Wallace
Cynthia & Don Black
Ron Farquharson
Glenn Betts
Siw Schalin
Rick and Joni van Dyke
Michael Dodd
Art Yeomans
Monet Perry
Ann Zschau
Catherine Barrette
Ed Jeffries
James Stewart

This represents a large increase over the dozen or so subscribers that attended the 1996 event in Atlanta.

Everyone is already looking forward to next year's ACA Conference in Reno.

St Johns Amplist members at the ACA 98

To see more pictures at the ACA Conference check out this link

Return to Contents page