Today we raise our fists high and put our hands together in celebration of our Feature Girl Warrior, Advocate, Off-road Enthusiast, Hair Stylist and Pinup Model, Julie Fanucchi, Co-founder of Amp Unity Canada. Julie is an active mother of three and married to an incredible man whom she was in a very serious accident with 10 years ago. Since the accident she has undergone 13 surgeries, the most dramatic of these being a below the knee amputation. Julie says the surgeries changed her life in drastic and dramatic ways that she could never have expected – the most surprising were the positive ones! Today she is stronger and more confident than before the accident, enjoying family activities like camping, hiking, kayaking and off-roading in their Jeep YJ. In 2019 Julie and her friend Andrea co-founded Amp Unity Canada, a community representation for amputees by amputees. Their primary goal is to connect amputees with one another, and the programs available for them – all with the goal of strengthening their community so that no amputee feels alone. This has led to bigger and more influential opportunities than they could have dreamed of. Like the petition for better amputee and prosthetic care that is gaining signatures at a rate of 16 per hour. They are currently petitioning the government to asses how amputees are being treated after they leave the hospital, and the unsettling amounts of money they’re being charged just to have some basic function and quality of life. Julie is also the adaptive Pinup Model known as Peggy Pyro, the Canadian Pinup Pirate. She competes in pageants alongside able-bodied women, as a statement that every body is beautiful, and that life doesn’t end at limb loss. It is also a great platform to bring awareness to issues of mental health. And to that we say AYE!
What makes you a Girl Warrior?
I wish I knew exactly what it is that makes me a Girl Warrior! To be honest with you it “just happened to me,” just like the super heroes you see in the movies I suppose! One day you are in high school complaining about classes and field trips, the next you’re waking up with special spider powers! I have always been told I had a certain “leadership” vibe, but I honestly don’t know where it came from. I can’t say that I knew what that meant until my life changed by way of ‘below the knee’ amputation.
How did the car accident ten years ago change your life?
In EVERY way! Thank goodness! I was not even sure who I was before my accident. I was a 22-year-old going through a separation, headed for divorce. I was in a self-sabotage phase of some kind. I figured if doing things “right” (i.e. getting married at 18) went so wrong for me, maybe I should make some WRONG decisions. Then maybe just maybe I would find happiness. Its crazy I know. Luckily I didn’t get to be in my own head about that for too long.
The day of the accident, I decided who I WANTED to be, and she wasn’t a fearful, weak, and broken young woman! SHE IS a confident, powerful, and influential WOMAN (and no I don’t just mean influential in the Instagram sense!) I was ready to do whatever I needed to do!
FIRST, be able to walk, care for myself and live. At the time I couldn’t do any of these things on my own!
SECOND, to be able to look at myself in the mirror without crying! Which I’ll be honest was even harder than learning to walk!
THIRD, I wanted to find a way to turn this awful, scary, and painful experience into something positive!
What surprised you most about the changes that happened afterwards?
What surprised me most would have to be how many incredible things came from my crappy experience. I found LOVE like the real deal kind! I had 3 beautiful babies! I found two incredible communities to belong to, and I found Love for MYSELF!
Why did you start Amp Unity Canada and what is your main objective?
I started Amp Unity Canada with my friend Andrea after we met at an Amputee Conference in Tucson, Arizona.
We met there completely by chance, living only a ferry ride away from one another and having never met before. I walked into the crowded hall for the opening ceremonies. I attended this event alone; my goal was to meet as many people as I could! I decided to sit with some random people that had two empty seats left in their row. One seat, upon closer inspection, had a purse on it, so I asked if the other was empty; they said yes and welcomed me to sit. Low and behold, the purse belonged to Andrea! We had drinks later on and discussed that Canada needed something like this, more community, more connection, more support. We were chatting almost daily when we got home, fueled by the passion ignited in us at the conference. And from those conversations Amp Unity Canada was born.
We genuinely just want to see amputees connecting with one another, and with the many programs out there to support them. It is hard to navigate life after you lose a limb, it can be extremely scary, and can feel deeply isolating. We don’t want to see any new amputee struggle with that loneliness, and fear of the unknown. We want to be there for our community and see them be there for one another. We are just two Canadian amputee Mamas, working hard on our daily grind, and giving what time and energy we have left over to igniting that same fire for community inside our peers.
You’re a pinup model. Love that! What’s it like to compete along side able-bodied women?
I love it too! It is pretty empowering! The ladies in the pin-up community here in the Fraser Valley are amazing, specifically West Coast Pinups! They have never treated me differently than anyone else! Even at my first pageant, where I competed in wheelchair. I was all of two months out of surgery, and before I had a prosthesis.
This community is so body positive, and so supportive! Pin Up was something that I never had the confidence to try before I lost my leg. I didn’t feel skinny enough, or pretty enough, then one day I saw an ad for an upcoming pageant, I thought to myself, “I wish I could do that.” In that moment a little voice deep down inside me said, “WHY CANT YOU? With such a long list of things that you cannot do right now, why add something to it that you physically could do if you weren’t so chicken?” Needless to say, I signed up! And here I am four pageants and one win later!
What do you love most about Peggy Pyro, the Canadian pinup pirate?
I love that she has all of the confidence and sass, and ferocity that Julie has, except she has it in spades, and with FIRE! Being able to dress up as a character, actually gives you an opportunity to play a role, that maybe you on your own may not have the confidence to play! Peggy is that character for me. She is me minus the anxiety, the mom bun, and the long list of chores waiting at home.
Peggy Pyro got her name quite simply because I am a lower limb amputee, which brings us the name “Peggy”. I am a fire performer on the side, so the name “Pyro” fit the bill perfectly!
How do you define beauty?
Beauty to me is something that cannot be defined by just a few words. Beauty is something that moves you when you see it or hear it. Beauty is something that makes you smile, makes you blush, and could just as easily provoke a tear from your eye.
Beauty to me is a feeling. It isn’t a new make-up technique, a perfect head of hair, or the best lash set you’ve ever seen. It is a feeling.
I think if more people realized that beauty isn’t just a look to strive toward, they would feel beautiful all the time. Beauty is strength, confidence, and happiness. You can find beauty inside yourself no matter what you look like. If you allow yourself to see the beauty in this broken and hate-filled world, you will start to see the beauty in yourself.
You’ve battled ADHD, PDSD and depression throughout your life. What advice would you give to someone reading this who may be suffering in silence and feeling alone?
YOU ARE NOT ALONE! AND YOU HAVE NOTHING TO BE ASHAMED OF! Now I don’t want anyone to mistake my saying that as an assumption that they are ashamed, because if you are not, you are blessed! One of the biggest struggles when dealing with mental health is SHAME.
It’s hard not to feel shame when you struggle with learning disabilities because it makes you feel dumb. Even if you are book smart, you are likely to find yourself forgetting things that should be simple and easy to remember.
It’s hard not to feel shame when you have PTS because your triggers can be so simple. You can find yourself set off from something as small as a smell in a room, or a photo on a Facebook wall, even a song playing in an elevator. And your reaction is not always within your control. It is hard not to feel shame for your seemingly reckless and impulsive responses to things.
Mental health is not something to be ashamed of EVER. You are a work of art, and while mental illness can be hard to manage, and even harder to share with others, IT IS SO MUCH HARDER TO STRUGGLE ALONE! Reach out to your friends, reach out to your family, and share with someone, or a couple of someone’s how mental health affects you. More often than not they aren’t judging you, they’re just unsure of what they can do to help.
If you are feeling alone, please consider reaching out to a community program in your area! There are support groups online, or BETTER YET, support groups offered in most communities. Hearing other people share their experiences, and finding commonalities can really help ground you and help you realize you’re not alone, and there is hope!
What’s the biggest decision you ever made?
Amputating my foot is a close second to leaving my first husband. I married for the first time at 18 years old. When I left my marriage, I had very little to NO SUPPORT. That is what makes it the biggest decision I’ve ever made over having my foot amputated. At least in the amputation I had tons of support, everyone understood why it was important for me to have that surgery, everyone understood my need for freedom, mobility, and to fight to be rid of the never-ending pain. Whereas leaving my marriage not many people understood why I needed to leave. It was actually the same reasons In a way. “Freedom” from emotional abuse, neglect, and betrayal. It was “Mobility” because my depression and anxiety in wondering where he was and what he was doing debilitated me. I was finally able to breath and move about freely without fear. And finally FREEDOM FROM THE PAIN, the emotional turmoil of being bound to someone who does nothing but hurt you and disregard your feelings is harder to bear than physical pain.
What do we need to know “for sure” about being an amputee?
That it isn’t always a disability. Sometimes it is an opportunity; sometimes it is a superpower. Sometimes the biggest gifts in life are hidden inside the biggest challenges. Many people go through hell with their amputations and I don’t mean to minimize that, but since I broke free of the burden that was my crippled foot, I have gained SO MUCH FREEDOM! Physical, emotionally, and opportunity wise!
How do you overcome the challenges (physical, mental and spiritual) that confront you?
RECHARGE! Take the time to recharge! Find out what it is that powers your heart and soul and do that! For me it’s finding water, and allowing myself to meditate and release whatever I am fighting. I get in my kayak and paddle out into the middle of a lake and yell out how angry I am, or cry that ugly cry you usually only let out in the shower! Or I will take a notebook out to a pier, or a rocky ridge overlooking a river/waterfall/lake and write down my thoughts to get them sorted.
AND TAKE SOME TIME TO HAVE SOME FUN! Laughter sometimes really is the best medicine. There’s something to be said for a girls night with giggles, and snacks, and shenanigans! If anything it’s a great distraction.
What would you say to your younger Girl Warrior?
I wish you could see future you. She is not shaken by bullies, she’s not afraid to be herself, and is now free to feel beautiful.
What would you say to future Girl Warriors looking for inspiration?
Don’t be afraid to be inspired by yourself! I know that sounds crazy, but if you have an idea and it makes you excited inside, share it with someone; if they get excited too, go for it! You don’t have to be a specific age to make a difference!
Who is/are your Girl Warrior hero(s) and why?
One of my Girl Warrior heroes is Kirstie Ennis. She is a bad ass chick from Colorado. Kirstie created the Climbing For A Cause Initiative to support non-profits and inspire others to do more. While serving in the Marine Corps, on her second deployment to Afghanistan as a helicopter door gunner, her helicopter crashed. Due to her injuries, she was medically retired. She joined to serve others, now she can say she truly lives her life for others.
This Climbing For A Cause Initiative supported two worthy non-profits. One is The Center for Disabled Children’s Assistance in Nepal, where we are helping to establish the first wheelchair maintenance shop/clinic. The second is Warfighter Made, a veteran charity that provides recreational therapy to ill, injured, and combat wounded service members and veterans.
Blue Sky it. No boundaries here, just limitless opportunities. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Funny you should ask. I just had a meeting with a student advisor at the local university today! I am looking to overcome my fear of failure and register for University! In 5 years I hope to be graduating from the Social Work Program with a job in community support for trauma survivors!
What makes you laugh uncontrollably? Cry out all the tears?
My husband makes me laugh! He just kind of shrugs it off when I’m being wildly over optimistic, and always uses humor to try to cheer me up! My kids as well know how to make me laugh. As a family, when we go camping or kayaking together, we get the sillies and I often find myself laughing until I can barely breathe!
Hate makes me cry. Intolerance, and ugliness between humans makes my heart break. I am so tired of seeing people tear one another down online, and even more so in person. BE KIND YOU GUYS!
What has been your biggest disappointment/triumph?
My biggest disappointment has been in realizing how much I’ve stood in my own way. These last few weeks, verging on months, I have begun to realize how much “imposter syndrome” and PTS has taken from me!
I have missed out on so many opportunities by my own doing. In order to avoid mourning the many things I’ve lost in the last 10 years, I’ve accepted the loss of things that I never did lose. I have mourned dance, I have mourned music, I have mourned sports, I have mourned dreaming. It turns out I didn’t lose any of those things; I just cut myself off from them in fear of disappointment. Ironically I am most disappointed in missing out on many of the things I have loved for so long.
My biggest triumph has, and will be, reclaiming all of the things I have denied myself, and been denied in the recent past. I am officially fighting to dream! I am fighting for the dream to dance again, the dream to play sports again, the dream to go back to school, and the dream to be the best me I can be! Sorry for the borderline miss America line there!
If a documentary were written about your life, what would it be called?
I struggled with this one so I polled my friends! They have suggested, “Handi Capable”, “No Limbs Left Behind”, “The Struggle is Real” and “Welcome to the Sh*t Show.”
My children have suggested, “Life Choices” as that is what I say to them when they’re about to do something that could have questionable results.
But the honest truth is, “Broken and Afraid, Healing from the Shame.”
To learn more about Amp Unity Canada head over to: https://ampunity.wordpress.com/
Follow the Amp Unity Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/amp.unity.canada/
Follow Julie on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/julie.pyro.58
Metaphor Hair and Body Image Facebook page at: https://bit.ly/2vE4mXF
Instagram at: https://www.instagram.com/ms.peggy.pyro/?hl=en
Photo Credits: Cover Photo by Brook Thompson of “Let There Be Light.”