Karen Daly

Photo by Paul Neevel

June 1999: As a kid in suburban New Jersey, Karen Daly loved rollerskating, jump rope and hopscotch. Her childhood ended abruptly at age 8, when “growing pains” in her right leg turned out to be bone cancer. Three years later the leg was amputated. “I have no memories of that time,” says Daly, who plans to walk (on crutches) from Eugene to Hoboken this summer, to sit on the stoop of the brownstone she lived in, and consider the missing years. “I’ll walk four to six hours each day,” she says. “Then I’ll open myself to generous people who will pick me up.” An artificial leg got Daly through her teens and into a nursing career, but after 19 years she left the leg behind and started dancing. She discovered Contact Improvisation and moved to Eugene five years ago after attending Alito Alessi’s DanceAbility workshop here. She has since danced on stages around the world. “Karen found that her loss was her gift,” says fellow dancer David Koteen.

2018 update: “I didn’t end up walking very much,” says Daly, who completed her cross-country journey mostly by bus. “But it was a pivotal experience.” On her return, she entered a 12-step program for a 30-year addiction to bulimia: eating and throwing up. “I needed to come out of hiding,” she says, “and own up to what was inside of me.” She took writing classes, and over the course of 10 years wrote a memoir, Joy Ride: My One-Legged Journey to Self-Acceptance, published in 2017 and available on Amazon. “I focused on the incredible influence that dance has had,” she says. “I’m going to semi-retire from nursing in December and become a dance gypsy!” Daly will perform with DanceAbility at the Oregon Bach Festival at the Hult Center in July 2019.