The Girl with the Purple Cane: Liz Jackson

Meet Liz Jackson, the honest, strong, and funny author behind the blog “The Girl with the Purple Cane.”

“It’s been so obvious in my life, what I’m going through and what my friends are going through, it requires a change in pace,” explained Liz Jackson, the author behind the insightful and honest blog, The Girl with the Purple Cane. After literally falling out of bed on March 30, 2012, Jackson was eventually diagnosed with Idiopathic Neuropathy a neurological and autoimmune disorder. “I woke up … and my ankles, feet and toes were so weak they were paralyzed,” wrote Jackson. Since her initial diagnosis, Jackson has used her disability as an opportunity to build skills that she may never have built otherwise.

“In the month leading up to me getting sick I was getting clumsy, worn down, like I was aging. I felt that I needed to do something,” said Jackson. After several months of physical therapy, Jackson was feeling defeated, wasn’t getting any answers, and was being told there were no treatments. In January, she quit therapy and started to look toward other forms of exercise like routine yoga classes, a spinning bike called a Peloton Cycle, and religiously riding around on her Specialized Globe Roll 8 to get her exercise. Soon, Jackson started to notice a real improvement.

Even with her increasing ability to do physical activities, Jackson still requires her cane to counter her difficulty with balance and her bilateral drop foot. When exerting lots of energy on her bike, Jackson’s gait and walk is much weaker, so it is necessary for her to have her cane for support as soon as she is off her bike.

Instead of feeling embarrassed or ashamed of mobility assistance devices, Jackson wants people to be proud of and flaunt them, as she does with her purple Sabi cane made from the same materials used to construct bicycles, skateboards, and hiking boots. Jackson recently collaborated with Walnut Studiolo to have custom leather “Cane Belts” made for her bike that would allow her to carry her cane on the top tube of her bicycle. “It was a really nice, fun thing and I think [the people at Walnut Studiolo] got something out of it and from the freedom that it gave me,” said Jackson.

The freedom that the Cane Straps provide Jackson shines through, allowing her to be active on her bike. Determined to reduce stigma towards people with disabilities, Jackson has been working hard to inspire more retailers, like J. Crew, to carry fashionable assisted devices. “It’s taking something that is a requirement of someone with a disability and making it into something athletic,” said Jackson. Her pursuit leading to an online petition.

From those needing hearing aids to those, like Jackson, that require canes, Jackson believes that stores should be open to carrying fashionable assisted devices. “I’m not asking J. Crew to make a cane, I’m asking them to a sell a cane,” said Jackson about the petition. Through more designers exploring inclusive design, this presents options to retailers like J. Crew for selling assisted devices in their stores, much like they have with glasses frames.

Since starting her blog in October 2013, Jackson continues to write about the trials and triumphs of living her daily active life with Idiopathic Neuropathy. In a recent post, Jackson described that she has been sick, “flaring up” from the effects of the change of seasons, and that her local bike shop has given her bad news that the chain on her bike has started falling off because the hub body and cassette are worn out on her rear wheel.

But the good news is that you can only really do this to your bike by riding hard and strong. “Lesson learned. I will continue to work hard. And when I feel weak, I will know that I am strong,” said Jackson. “And I now know that I am strong on those weak days because the efforts I make on the not-so-weak days. I am officially proud of myself. And of my broken bike.”

7 Comments

  • Geoff, Walnut Studiolo

    We’re the folks who made the custom cane belts for Liz. We’d be happy to make them on special request! If we got enough interest, we could even make it a regular product. For more about our company, check us out at: http://walnutstudiolo.com, and if you’d like to order a custom cane belt set, email us at walnutstudiolo@gmail.com. Keep riding!

  • daniel stark

    I have MS and do not walk well- I ride year round on a ” reverse trike”- through ice and snow easy. FB group “trikes in downtown vernon” fantastic things- reverse trikes.

  • Anthony

    Liz, I really like this story…thank you for sharing your experience as an avid bicyclist, while dealing with challenging personal health. My fraternal twin brother has cerebral palsy and used to ride a 3-wheeler when he was much younger. I am hoping to get him back on a bicycle someday again. This is an inspiring article that I will gladly share. -Keep on Ridin’…!

  • Liz Jackson

    Hi Cecily,

    I am the subject of this post, and I have been thinking about your comment for a couple of days, it really makes me smile. There are two other amazing comments by paradoxical bike riding cane users, and it’s so wonderful to know that there are a few of us. Here’s to the Cane Cycling Club!

  • Nina Sabghir

    I was injured in a bicycling accident in March. Kind of crazy to ride my bike, park and then pull out my collapsing cane. I get some funny looks but it works for me. Good to know it works for others. Stay strong and keep riding!

  • Traci

    I have a degenerative spinal condition and sometimes I need to use a cane. I’m glad I’m not alone in strapping it to the top tube of my bike.

  • Cecily Walker

    Seeing the system Liz rigged up to carry her cane makes me wish I had a diamond frame bike instead of a mixte. My solution is a folding cane; I sacrifice strength for portability.

    Thanks for these articles, Momentum. As someone who is disabled and living with an immune disorder, it does my heart a lot of good to know that there are others like me out there who still ride.

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