Just One Gift? (Happy Holidays and Book Review)

one christmas giftbrave ski mom logoIf you could choose just one gift this holiday season — one gift for yourself — what would you choose? While a quick and easy answer might be new skis or boots or perhaps a season pass to everywhere, I think that most of us, if confronted by an all-powerful Santa, would choose more carefully.

Maybe you would choose health: health for your family, your friends and yourself. Or maybe the ultimate gift would be strength: strength to make it through each day, good and bad, with grace, wisdom and faith. Happiness might also rank highly on your list. It certainly does on mine.

What if you could craft your wish, so that you could have it all — health, strength and happiness? That would make it easy to choose, don’t you think?

A Singular Decision

just one foot cover

In 2004, Judy Johnson Berna, ski mom and author, made her wish and chose her gift. After nearly 30 years of living with a deformed foot, the result of the spina bifida with which she was born, Berna chose to have her foot amputated. Amputation was the cost of her wish to be more active, to be more involved with her husband and four children, to have better overall health and to ski.

This fall, Berna published a memoir of her life with her disability and her decision to amputate her medically healthy, yet physically limiting left foot. Just One Foot: How Amputation Cured My Disability, tells her story.

Good Foot Gone Bad

Although born with what doctors assumed was spina bifida, Berna lived a normal, active life through early childhood. Near the end of her first decade, her foot began turning against her, twisting in on itself and refusing to function properly. One child in a large biological family, with parents stretched thin by the demands of raising a revolving cast of foster children, Berna hid her troubles. She didn’t want to cause any trouble, so she made do.

Choosing Amputation

author judy johnson berna

Photo Courtesy Judy Johnson Berna.

Many operations, a college degree, a husband and four active children later, Berna was done making do. She wanted a new foot. Doctors advised against the operation. Her foot was pink and healthy. Why would she cut it off?

In her words:

It was just one foot. A worn-out, withered foot that had paid its dues. It was not my heart and soul, and yet its dysfunction had shaped who I was. I was ready to be rid of its power. It steered me to a hiding place on the elementary school playground. Its deformity contributed to a belief that I was not datable in high school. Its deterioration left me hobbling around with the idea that somehow it was my fault. It was time to say goodbye to that life and greet my new one.

The Challenge of Skiing

author judy berna learning to ski at Park City Utah

Learning how to use a ski foot – a metal bar that straps directly into the ski, no boot required – with her adaptive instructor and prosthetist. Photo courtesy Judy Johnson Berna.

I met Berna via The Brave Ski Mom early last year when she commented on a post. I visited her website, Just One Foot, so I knew she’d had an amputation. I also knew that she had learned to ski post-amputation when she and her family where living in Utah. Now relocated to Colorado, skiing is a big part of their lives. In fact, Berna writes that of all the goals she had for her new more mobile life, skiing was “the biggest challenge on my dream list.”

Berna’s husband, Jeff, grew up skiing in New Hampshire and had taught their children to ski. The first time the Bernas skied together was on the day of her second adaptive lesson at Park City Mountain Resort.

It was a hill way under his abilities,” Berna writes, “but considering he never dreamed I would share a ski slope with him, he was pleased…The warm sun came through the window as Jeff drove down the mountain and we reflected on one of the best days we had had in our history together. Even more than that, it had been one of the best days of my life.

The Realities

judy johnson berna and family

Photo Courtesy Judy Johnson Berna.

In the abstract, Berna’s decision to amputate made perfect sense. Yet until I read her book, I had no idea what her choice really meant. Reading about the rigors of rehab, rebuilding an array of muscles that had not been used, or used improperly, for decades, and the trials of simply learning to walk anew, made me reconsider my assumptions.

When she writes about being unable to get out of bed in the night to respond to a sick child (or God forbid, she be sick herself), the magnitude of her choice really hit me. With two legs, even one less functional than the other, Berna could walk at any moment. With one leg, if the prosthesis is not attached, she’s immobile.

Even as much as she enjoys skiing, it hasn’t been easy. “I know I will never be more than a beginner,” Berna writes. “I will never ski a tough slope like my kids do, but I will persuade them to step down and do a few easy slopes with me.”

judy berna and sons adaptive skiing at Park City Utah

Author Judy Berna, and two of her sons, on one of her first ski days…ever! Photo Courtesy Judy Berna.

Do What It Takes to Get The Life You Really Want

There are times when reading Just One Foot, that I thought to myself, “maybe it would have been easier to just keep going as she was.” And it might have been easier for Berna to continue in life, a happy life with her family, as more spectator than participant.

But that wasn’t the life she wanted, so when she made her choice, when handed a gift which would help her reach her dreams, she reached for it, unwrapped it and embraced its possibilities, difficulties included.

According to Judy Johnson Berna the core message of Just One Foot is this: Do what it takes to get the life you really want.

That’s her gift, just one gift, to each of us.

In addition to being the author of Just One Foot, Judy Johnson Berna is a core writer for Wired magazine’s Geek Mom blog.  

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© 2012 – 2014, Kristen Lummis. All rights reserved. Any use or publication of content, including photos, requires express permission.


  1. Sheila says

    Thank you for sharing Judy Berna’s Inspiring story written on an unsentimental note yet very touching. She must be so happy to be truly seen and her courage and determination appreciated. You gave me and I suspect many others a meaningful Christmas gift. Thank you.