When I was three months old, my parents had to make the decision to amputate my leg above-the-knee because of a birth defect. For most children that would drastically change their life; I was an exception. Growing up in rural Saskatchewan, I had taken to sports at a very young age. Being the only amputee around, I had no idea that playing hockey, baseball, tennis and basketball at an elite level was unusual. I made the provincial tennis team and led my high school basketball team to a number three provincial ranking. About the only sport I didn’t do was track.
Relaxing one day in late August of 1996, I was flipping through the television stations when I came across the Paralympics. I knew of the Paralympic Games, but thought that since I was so successful at able-bodied sports, why would I want to participate in the disabled games. The next event scheduled was the above-knee amputee 100-meter race. Since that was my disability, I thought I would watch the race. The winner, and at that time world record holder Lucas Christian, won easily. What caught my attention though was the last place time of 15.19 seconds. I knew that I could easily cover 100 meters in a quicker time. It was then and there that I decided to give track a go. I moved across the country to Southern Ontario, the mainstay for track in Canada and began training at the Hamilton Olympic Club.
Track has become my passion as well as my job. I was named the Canadian Disabled Athlete of the Year in 1997, 1998, and 1999. I was also inducted into Calgary’s Sports Hall of Fame. I participated in many national and international competitions leading up to the 2000 Paralympics, including the Optis Australia Grand Prix Series.
Competing in the 2000 Paralympic Games in Sydney, Australia was an incredible experience. In the 100-meter sprint, I won the gold medal and set a world record time of 12.61 seconds. In the 200 meter, I won the Silver medal. What a journey it has been since I "stumbled" onto the Paralympics just four years ago. It has challenged me and completely changed the direction in my life, and I am very honored to have represented Canada.
At the age of 16, active and athletic Michael Orlie was diagnosed with cancer in his lower right knee. He quickly began a yearlong battle with the disease that would require chemotherapy and surgery on the leg. Orlie’s surgeons were able to save his leg, but it was less than adequate. He spent the next ten years on and off of crutches trying to get the fused leg to heal. With no mobility in the knee, he was left with few options to continue the lifestyle of a teenager.
Nine years later in June of 1996, Orlie was in a car accident and fractured the femur in the fused leg. He knew now that amputation was a logical solution. He began researching his options and found a world-renowned prosthetist in Oklahoma City. He also found a surgeon who knew about elective amputation. With all the key components in place, Orlie decided to go forward with the surgery. Having the support of his wife and family, he had his left leg amputated above the knee on January 6, 1997, in Dallas, TX.
In late February, Orlie made his first trip to Oklahoma City for the initial fitting for his prosthetic leg. As a teenager, he had dreamed of running track but now he dreamed only to walk like a "normal person" and sit in a chair with a bendable knee. Soon he was not only able to walk like a "normal person," but he was taught to run by his prosthetist Scott Sabolich. At the encouragement of Sabolich, the new amputee decided to compete at a national amputee track meet in Springfield, MA.
This first track meet was a very emotional time for Orlie. For the first time in ten years, he was able to feel the wind in his face as he ran down the track in the 100-meter sprint. He came in last place but was exhilarated. He had learned to run again only just two weeks earlier and now was competing. Since that time, he has competed in three U.S. national meets and in the World Championships in Birmingham, England. He is nationally ranked in the 200m and shotput.
Recently Orlie was fitted with a C-Leg knee system. Not only can he still do most anything he wants, he can now maneuver on rough terrain without worrying about falling or loosing his balance. He can now mow his lawn that is on an incline and carry his two young daughters without worrying about falling.
Michael was able to fulfill some of those childhood dreams that were taken away by cancer and the resulting fused leg. Amputation seemed like an extreme option to many, but to Orlie it was a chance to have a better quality of life. "The most important part of being an amputee is having a prosthetist that I can trust and have a long-term relationship with. I found that in Scott Sabolich and the staff at Scott Sabolich Prosthetics and Research."