Gideon Paull UNYQer Interview
Gideon is an English engineer now based in Los Angeles, father and grandfather, who spends his spare time building complex web applications. In his view, he’s unique in as far as he’s thoughtful of others, empathetic and strives to be a good human being who gives back to the world more than he takes from it. For an early age he has it clear: “your amputation does not define you, you are unique for so many reasons”.
For Gideon, everyone has unique qualities, qualities that make them stand out as an individual for one reason or another. While going through an amputation is a life changing and dominating event.
I have never let it define me. I am unique for so many other reasons, living as an amputee isn’t one of them. I always strive to never let the lack of a leg interfere with my life. – Gideon Paull.
Being amputated since he was 12 years old Gideon has learnt that he’s more than his amputation so within a few months of receiving his first prosthetic he was walking, running, swimming and cycling for the first time in his life. His parents treated him with no exceptions, just the same as his four siblings – there was no special accommodations for having an amputated leg.
Each of us has a personal story that makes us unique, what is yours?
I remember walking to school every day, rain or shine, on crutches, with an amputated leg. I thought that this is what made me special at that time, it certainly had its benefits; cars would stop to let me cross the road at busy junctions. This can-do attitude that they instilled in me, an attitude of no limits if you want to achieve something, has driven me to this day and really defined everything that I have done.
When I’m not in front of a computer screen, I love hiking, cycling, generally working out – I go to the gym most days. One thing I learnt very early on is not to be embarrassed by what I have. If I have to remove my prosthetic at the beach to go in the sea or at a swimming pool, then I do that. If I have to remove it when hiking to clean sweat from my residual limb, I do that without a second thought. The objective is to live my life on my terms and not those dictated by what other people think.
One story comes to mind that demonstrates how people can surprise you. Some years ago I received my first prosthetic that used a vacuum to keep it attached to the residual limb. I wasn’t used to the vacuum system so I didn’t know how it behaved. I took a lot of time going out for a drink with colleagues in a bar after work, this bar had the type of stool that they put at high tables.
I sat on the stool with my legs dangling down, suddenly my prosthetic lost the vacuum and literally fell off. Without a hesitation, the colleague I was with jumped down, picked up my prosthetic and pushed it back onto my limb as if this was a natural occurrence that happened to her everyday. For this reason I learnt that I shouldn’t go skydiving or bungee jumping (not that I think that those are activities that I really want to do).
Gideon Paull wearing a UNYQ Next prosthetic cover design for BK in Black
How important do you think the support of family and friends is in the rehabilitation process after amputation? How has that support been for you?
Family support after an amputation means everything. It is so easy to get into a situation where you wallow in the sadness of your loss – self pity can easily overwhelm you and take over your life. I think it’s easier when you are younger, but regardless of age it’s really only a state of mind.
My parents took the attitude that nothing special had happened to me. They had four other children to worry about and I was treated the same as everyone else. If we went hiking, I went, they insisted I learn to swim, learn to ride a bike so I could cycle to school. They enabled me to realize that I could do anything that I set my mind to and this not only defined the time immediately following the amputation, but has been a driving force that has defined everything I have achieved in my life since. Had my parents not treated me as normal, had they not given me the opportunities that I had, I would not be the person I am today. They challenged me to see the amputation as an opportunity to do new things, things I had always wanted to do before but couldn’t. They challenged me to not think of amputation as a disability, but rather as an opportunity to do amazing things.
"Amputation does not define you."
How do you handle self-acceptance? Do you think UNYQ Covers influence body image and self-perception? How?
For most of my life following amputation I strove to have a prosthetic that emulates a real leg. When I was much younger, I even painted hairs on my leg to make it more realistic! I didn’t want people to realize that I was an amputee, I didn’t want them to stare at me when I wore shorts. However, I am very active and I do go through more prosthetics than most people, so I visit the clinic, probably more often than I should.
Things are different now and I don’t mind people looking at my prosthetic, in fact I love it when they do. What UNYQ provided for me not only looks really cool, but is literally a statement, a work of art. It has without a doubt changed how I think about people staring at my disability. At the gym, people come up to me, comment on the “coolness factor”, shake my hand (not sure why), ask me questions – I don’t mind at all!
In your opinion, what steps can be taken to improve the overall societal understanding and acceptance of amputees and their bodies?
Amputation is a part of life, it can happen to anyone at any time and often without warning, whether because of an accident, disease or any other reason. When we stop focusing on the external appearance and instead recognize a person for who they are, for their achievements, when we start thinking of people as equals instead of defining them by their bodies, we can build a much better society, a society where being disabled is accepted and normalized.
Amputees are their best advocates in this fight; Instead of looking for pity, accommodations or special treatment as a result of being disabled, they should be doing everything in their power to promote the fact that they have motivation to continue life in the best way possible. Advertise their disabilities as a statement to their motivation to live life.
If I had to give advice to another UNYQer it would be: “Show off your prosthetic – it’s a work of art, it’s cool and people respond positively to it. It will increase your own self-esteem”. – Gideon Paull.