As lawn mowing season is upon us, a 16-year-old amputee shares her story to warn others

The War Amps Playsafe Program wants to ensure carefree play spaces for all

By Emma Boyne | May 18, 2022 |5:00 am

Now 16, Zoe Gottwald lost her leg in an accident when she was just four years old, but she hasn’t let that slow her down.

Photo: Submitted

At just four years old, Zoe Gottwald lost her leg due to a lawnmower accident on her grandparents’ farm. 

“I was playing outside when I slipped on the grass and fell underneath a riding lawnmower. I lost my left leg below the knee,” she says of the tragic accident. 

Gottwald was airlifted from the scene and spent months in hospital before moving to physical therapy, and it was many more months before she was able to leave the facility. 

Wanting to share her story to help keep other children safe, Gottwald joined the War Amps Playsafe Program as an ambassador. 

The Playsafe Program is designed to teach kids how to play safely in their environment, especially when they don’t always recognize the hazards.

It’s all about helping kids be aware of their surroundings 

With eight representatives across Canada, Gottwald — now 16 — and her fellow ambassadors put on a variety of events and initiatives to help make kids aware of their surroundings, even taking them on ‘safe walks’ to teach kids how unsafe their neighbourhoods can be. 

“Sometimes we will chant about playing safe or we’ll have signs. And also, most of us will wear shorts to show our prosthetics or t-shirts,” Gottwald explains. “I think that’s such a great way to introduce kids to safety around the neighbourhood.”

Bob Maguire, a public safety officer with the program, says that this is the best way to teach kids how to play safely. He says that while parents do their best to protect children, it’s always best learned from someone who has the experience themselves. 

“Who better to teach the kids than someone who is missing an arm or a leg or a foot because they know what it’s like to be missing those limbs and to teach others how to always spot the danger,” Maguire says. 

“We all know that kids like to have fun, and we want them to continue that. Just kids can be careless sometimes [and] we want them to not be careless, but to be carefree.”

Helping prevent others from going through a similar tragedy 

With the hope to keep educating families, the Playsafe Program will continue to be an integral part of keeping the community proactive in the well-being of children. 

“It’s important and not a joke that you do need to play safe and think before you act, especially around machinery and big dangerous vehicles as well,” Gottwald says. 

“I think giving mothers and parents a sense of comfort that there are others that can support you and help you through these times, especially with your kids, especially if they’re young.”

Gottwald grew up in The War Amps Child Amputee (CHAMP) Program, and she wants to pass on a key message.

“With lawn cutting season here, I want every kid across the country to know they should never be around lawnmowers,” she says, adding she accepts who she is today but doesn’t want others to go through what she has. 

“I hope that by sharing my story, it will prevent even just one child from being injured.”

Emma Boyne

Emma Boyne is an intern at Calgary Citizen.

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