Walking up to the hotel entrance on a hot day in July, best clothes on, Hero Arm flashy, still couldn’t beat back the feelings that were mounting up. It was almost like first date anxiety. In a good way. That feeling of meeting someone new for the first time, managing your expectations, trying your best to just be yourself and letting your authentic self shine through. This circumstance was not a one-on-one first date, however. This was Lucky Fin Project Weekend 2023, a yearly event where people with disabilities gather to make friends, network, build community, and bond over similar or different experiences in life. Attendance in the 900-range. No pressure, right? Read on for a first-timer’s thoughts and feelings on this monumental gathering.
I was born without my right arm. I grew up in a time where social media was non-existent, and the world was a much less-connected place. Looking back, those times were some of the most isolating for me. Especially as someone with a limb difference. In my early adolescence and teen years, I felt alone. Others like me were only ‘real’ in the occasional book or magazine. My only interactions with fellow amputees came once or twice a year in a controlled, sterile hospital setting where authentic interactions did not occur. Sure, they may have looked like me, but our interactions were brief and only centered on the medical side of our disabilities rather than on things kids normally discuss, like favorite music, shows, games, sports, etc.
Enter adulthood, and my world has indeed gotten smaller and more connected with the advancement of social media. I’ve connected with more and more limb different friends in authentic ways that don’t necessarily center on just our disability. When the opportunity to attend my very first Lucky Fin Weekend came about, I didn’t even have to consider it for a moment, it was an immediate yes. Put on yearly in Troy, Michigan, Lucky Fin Weekend brings people with disabilities from far and near together for a weekend of community building, networking, and fun.
“This was new as well. Not having to be approached by a stranger who’s immediate conversation starter was my limb difference.”
Walking through the event doors at the hotel was nerve racking. I had connected with a small number of amputees since my teen years, but nowhere near the amount I was about to experience. Seeing children and grown ups with their limb different ‘lucky fins’ wandering and mingling everywhere I looked was a sight to behold. And they weren’t even really talking about their limb differences. Rather they were comparing where they were from, their interests, their passions. The authentic conversations and connections I had yearned for. I knew I had found a safe space and a community, at last.
Night one was filled with meeting new people. Connecting with people my age was like a breath of fresh air, immediately being accepted as not different or someone to pity or feel sorry for, but simply as Lucas; me. No special strings attached or tiptoeing around my obviously physical disability. The only attention brought to my limb difference from those my age was if I invited conversation about it first, or if they mentioned how cool my bionic Hero Arm was. This was new as well. Not having to be approached by a stranger who’s immediate conversation starter was my limb difference.
The children on the other hand (no pun intended), were different. They saw my ‘little arm’ or Hero Arm and immediately went in to touch it or draw attention to it. This was the critical realization moment for me. These kids had what I yearned for at their age. Someone I could see in real life and interact with who was just like them, that I wasn’t the only one. Realizing that these kids had the community I needed brought me close to tears. Lucky Fin Project had brought these kids closer together at a critical moment in their lives, when they needed to know the most that they aren’t alone in their disability, that it’s something to embrace and be proud of.
Day 2 of Lucky Fin brought us all together in a park for picnic food, games, vendors, and informational tables about limb different organizations and prosthetics. Showing off and talking about a bionic prosthesis and a company that has given so much to me, Open Bionics, made the day something to truly be proud of. I had a smile wide across my face for hours as kids played with and marveled in awe at what the Hero arm could do and how it looked. Advocating for a game-changing prosthesis as well as something that is a positive factor in mental health via the personalized covers was thrilling. The level of interest in our Hero Arms solidified the growing interest in 3D printed technology, and interest in adopting prosthetics in general.
That evening, my newly made friends and I were able to swap stories and questions about our prosthetics in a way that was new to me. I was able to talk candidly about my prosthesis from a perspective of knowing that someone could empathize. Friends around me already knew about various prostheses solutions because they had used or were using the same or similar technology as I was. I could share info about my bionic experience, swap jargon, laugh about instances of our batteries going dead while attached to grocery carts. These were refreshingly new conversations to me from other adults and it felt validated to be empathized with. Not to mention, it was totally awesome to see all the different types of bionic arms and why others chose them.
By the time the final day was upon me, I was already bracing for a very hard goodbye. No other time had I felt like I had connected with such lasting friends so fast. If I felt that way, I knew for certain that the children around me would too, and that their friendships found among this community would thrive for a lifetime. No other feeling during the weekend made me happier; knowing that the Lucky Fin Project is the community that will last a lifetime for all those who come. If ever there was a time in my life where knowing that my own sense of community and friendship is validated and that I’m not alone, it’s now. 7-year-old Lucas would be so happy to know this would come to exist for him. Watching newfound friends hug and exchange emotional goodbyes brought warmth to my heart, and a resounding sense of impatience to connect again in person next year.
To find out more about the Lucky Fin Project, including upcoming events, check out their website or Facebook page. If you saw me in action with my Hero Arm and would like more information or to demo it, get in touch here and we’ll direct you to your nearest Open Bionics clinic.