Today, Sweatman and his best friend Angela Baldwin, sporting bright blue T-shirts emblazoned with the phrase “Amputated Yet Whole,” passed through Jacksonville during their walk from Atlanta to Birmingham. The two have been walking the Chief Ladiga Trail since last Thursday with a goal to raise money and awareness for Limbs for Life, a nonprofit organization that provides prosthetics to people who can’t afford them.
“You can’t miss me,” Sweatman said with a laugh. “I’m the guy without a leg.”
Sweatman has been using a prosthetic to assist with the loss of his leg below the knee for the past three and a half years. He currently uses an active-vacuum prosthetic, which expels air between a limb and a prosthetic socket to create a air-tight fit.
“This leg right here cost about $27,000,” he said.
Sweatman said the only time he ever feels disabled is when he cannot use his prosthetic and has to use a wheelchair and crutches to get around. Even though he went through some hard financial times, he was blessed to be able to afford his prostheses when he needed them. That’s why he strives to help others who need prosthetics but cannot afford them, he said, but he didn’t always feel that way.
After a series of hardships including being disowned by his parents, the loss of his job, and his long-term partner leaving him, he tried to end his life. Sweatman said even though his suicide attempt failed and God spared him, he still didn’t want to be where he was in life. Then along came Diamond, Sweatman’s Shih Tzu, whom he rescued from a puppy mill in Atlanta.
“I would have loved to have brought her with me, but we wouldn’t have gotten very far with her. It takes her about 10 minutes to go 10 feet because she has to stop and sniff everything,” Sweatman said when asked why he didn’t bring Diamond along.
Sweatman said it was after taking care of Diamond that he realized he didn’t want to die.
“I didn’t need to end my life; I needed to change it. I needed to change my perspective and my outlook, and that’s when I started getting back in touch with my faith,” he said.
Sweatman said God called out to him and told him that he needed to be thankful for what he has, not what he lacks, which is why he decided to give back.
“Because I am an amputee, I’m able to go and talk to people going through limb loss or people who have already lost their limb and let them know what it’s going to be like,” he said. “I didn’t have someone there with me when I went through the loss of my leg. I didn’t have my parents there to say everything is going to be okay, but at least I can go and talk to people and tell them it’s going to be okay. If I had both my legs, I wouldn’t be doing this.”
Baldwin, who supported Sweatman’s journey since the beginning, said she is proud her friend has come so far and has done so much.
“He’s put a lot of time into planning and preparation and making it all happen,” she said. “It’s been a good journey, really it has, and I’m looking forward to doing it again.”
Sweatman said his original fundraising goal for the walk was $5,000, but because he has been receiving so much support, he wants to try for $10,000 by Sunday.
“There have been times when I was ignoring what God wanted me to do. And then I realized I needed to quiet my mind and listen to my heart and soul and feel what I think God is leading me to do, and I just need to do it,” he said. “And ever since, my life has gotten so much better.”
Staff writer Madasyn Czebiniak: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @MCzebiniak_Star.