By Leslie D. Rose
On Veterans Day 2014 Baton Rougean Tiffany Lester received her 15 minutes of fame as a participant on Spike TV’s tattoo competition reality show Ink Master.
While 15 minutes may not be a long time, for Lester it felt like an eternity, because she knows firsthand that life can change in a matter of only seconds.
Now an amputee, it was a severe car accident that took the 29-year-old’s legs.
Her amputee status garnered her spot on Ink Master within an episode dedicated to amputees. She was the recipient of a tattoo she claims to be symbolic of her accident, designed on her left leg below-the-knee amputation site.
Having been flown to New York on Fourth of July weekend, Lester said the trip was the best part, as the rest of her experience was a bit uncomfortable. Having cameras surround her in the studio as she discussed and received painful artwork, she said, was terrifying.
“I have like nine tattoos in other places, but behind the knee is the most painful place,” Lester said. “I was twitching for like five hours straight and cameras were all around me. I was making so many noises on my mic – it was awful.”
Drawn by Mark Longenecker, a 20-year tattoo veteran from Cocoa Beach, Fla. who specializes in vibrant colors, Lester’s tattoo was modeled on what was going on around the time that she had her near fatal accident that flipped her vehicle four times leading her to have 42 surgeries, all without health insurance.
“I wanted a flower with a lot of colors that represented the chaos that was going on with a distinct old school anchor that shows me remembering that everything happens for a reason and also my spirituality,” Lester said.
Longnecker expertly crafted her idea, but it wasn’t enough to save the artist from elimination.
Also eliminated was Lester’s attempt to show advocacy for amputee support agencies.
“They didn’t air it, of course,” she said.
As a non-veteran, Lester said there aren’t very many support channels for amputees. While she said she thinks it’s great that veterans receive so much help, she’s disappointed in things offered to others, particularly in Baton Rouge.
“I was trying to get some awareness out there so I was trying to plug things.”
One of those things she was trying to plug is her online fundraiser on crowdrise.com.
A once-athlete, Lester’s online request for $5,000 will help her with the purchase of a Handcycle so that she may participate in competitive sports again.
“My amputations have completely changed my life,” she said. “I was an athlete growing up, always played sports and always did what I wanted when I wanted – my wreck has crippled that mentality, I am fighting for it back though.”
With 226 days to go on her fundraiser and 12% of her goal already raised, Lester is hopeful that once she heals from a recent surgery, she will be able to continue her advocacy, help Baton Rouge build the resources necessary to support amputees of non-veteran status and continue to work with an agent to land more television spots and roles catered to amputees.
“I’m just trying to make it,” Lester said.