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“I’d walk into the hospital room [of one of the victims] and start talking with them,” she said. “After a while, I’d say, ‘Oh, by the way, I’m wearing a prosthetic leg.’ It was amazing to see their faces change. They’d say, ‘I didn’t even notice.’ That was very important, especially for the women.”
It was in her hometown of New Ulm a week before her seventh birthday. Young Leslie was pulling out of a friend’s driveway on her bike when she was hit by truck coming around a corner. Her right leg was broken in two places, and her left leg was crushed. Doctors realized that amputation was needed, but they didn’t have the facilities to do it.
“They told my mother that I’d probably survive if I could make it to Rochester,” she said. “My mother rode with me in the ambulance, making me sing songs all the way to keep me conscious.”
Pitt Schneider graduated from St. Olaf College intending to go to medical school. Instead, she ended up in Colorado as a member of the national ski team, becoming the No. 3-ranked women’s paralympic skier in the world.
“It was a great experience, but eventually I decided that I had better move on with my life,” she said.
She returned to Minnesota, but her ardor for medical school had cooled. Instead, she got a degree in nursing and went to work at Hennepin County Medical Center, where she met her husband, Greg. When he got a job in St. Louis, she got her first taste of outreach. She launched a nonprofit group there — which still exists — called Amputees Getting Into Life Energetically (AGILE).
“We’d get together and go golfing or swimming or bowling,” she said. “Doing things together was a much more comfortable way to talk about limb loss than sitting at a table talking over a Styrofoam cup of coffee.”
The experience whetted her appetite for advocacy, and she decided to get a law degree.
“I wanted to learn how to negotiate through laws and regulations and be able to use those skills to be an advocate,” she said. And she’s done just that. In addition to her work with Wiggle Your Toes, she serves on the board of directors for the Amputee Coalition of America.
When Pitt Schneider and her husband moved back to the Twin Cities, she went to work in the legal department of Ottobock Healthcare in Plymouth, a company that makes prosthetics.
“It’s just a coincidence” that her employer is involved with prosthetics, she said. “I needed a job, and they had an opening. I don’t have anything to do with the prosthetics. I spend a lot of my time dealing with government health regulations.”
The Wiggle Your Toes Foundation has distributed money that was contributed for the bombing victims and helped arrange for donated prosthetics (including some from Pitt Schneider’s employer). Asked what keeps motivating them, she shrugged her shoulders.
“This is what we do,” she said. “This is who we are.”
Jeff Strickler • 612-673-7392