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Lead Advocate Jim Wilkes Harnesses the Power of Self Advocacy

Sep 7, 2023 |

By Jewel Connelly, Communications Specialist

Ever since becoming an above knee amputee over five years ago, Jim Wilkes, like many amputees, has had to become his biggest advocate. After nine failed knee surgeries, Jim was faced with the reality of amputation, but he wasn’t about to let it slow down his active lifestyle. From scuba diving, to riding a motorcycle, and mountain biking to over 9,000 ft elevation, he has successfully returned to enjoying outdoor activities, but it wasn’t without self-determination. 

Just before having the amputation, Jim visited an Orthopedic Physical Therapist and shared that he wanted to do everything he did before becoming an amputee. He was told that day that he wouldn’t be able to bike again, a limitation he refused to accept. “Eight weeks after my amputation I got my first prosthetic leg,” Jim said. “Then I trained for three weeks and rode 16 miles one way (32 total) on a bicycle over to her office, walked in and said, ‘this is how determined I am.’” After learning more about the Amputee Coalition for himself, Jim immediately became a Certified Peer Visitor and then a Lead Advocate in 2018 because of his desire to help others. Throughout his own journey he has learned the necessity of being your own advocate and tries to instill this valuable life lesson in those he meets. 

When asked about self-advocacy, Jim referenced a quote from football coach Vince Lombardi that was regularly repeated in his office: “The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will.” This is a mindset he has carried from his career, and it has helped him navigate life and challenges as an amputee. “It’s absolutely critical to be able to push forward, because if I don’t push forward, who’s going to do it for me?” he said. “If you don’t do it, nobody will do it for you. It’s that simple.” 

In his role as a lead advocate, Jim is currently working towards insurance fairness in the state of California by getting in touch with assemblymen and city mayors to get resolutions passed. “What has been most impactful for me as an Amputee Coalition volunteer is getting these representatives to sit down and really listen to what’s needed for the community,” he shared. Resiliency is a necessary character trait of any advocate and Jim is one of the people who break down barriers for so many with his consistent efforts. 

While every person’s situation is unique, Jim has also had a lot of opportunities to encourage community members to move beyond their own limited mindset and accomplish what seemed to be an insurmountable task. “I met with a man who lost both his legs to diabetes, and he was in a wheelchair,” Jim said. “I asked him how he was doing, and he said, ‘Not so well, I’ll never get out of this wheelchair.’ I was wearing long pants, so I lifted my pant leg and said ‘I only have one leg. Why do you think you’re stuck there?’ Within four months we had him walking on prosthetic legs.” Conversations like this are the start of helping to get people moving again with a support system and the right resources.  

Oftentimes people will underestimate the impact their individual voice can have for change, but Jim shares a different perspective. Advocacy depends on everyone doing something. “I would ask someone who is questioning if they should get involved, has anyone ever helped you do anything? Did it make a difference? If one person is able to do one thing that makes a difference in someone else’s life, would you do it? So if helping someone is important to you, then this is the right place to be. Because the Amputee Coalition does that.” 

If you would like to learn more about advocacy or our lead advocate training, visit our advocacy & awareness webpage to get started. Learn more about all our volunteer opportunities on our website.