Last year I had the pleasure of interviewing Amy Palmiero-Winters, a single mother of two who had lost her leg below the knee after a motorcycle accident years earlier, for an article in the June 2010 issue of Trail Runner magazine.
Amy had been an accomplished marathon runner prior to losing her leg, but once she was fitted with a carbon-fiber prosthesis from A Step Ahead, her athletic career took off and she started racking up records and titles in everything from triathlons to trail ultramarathons. When I spoke to her, she was preparing for the 2010 Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run in Auburn, California, one of the country’s most very difficult and certainly the most competitive.
When I asked if people suggested that her prosthesis might actually give her a biomechanical advantage, she scoffed. “I don’t see them running on their kneecap,” she told me. Her patellar tendon, which connects the patella to the tibia, is her left leg’s only (and insufficient) impact-absorbing mechanism apart from the carbon-fiber’s slight give.
And over the years, the stress of running (amplified by the prosthesis, which essentially acts like a tuning fork sending forces throughout the body) has caused nagging lower-back pain. “I come down harder on my right side, so I started trail running to get away from all that pounding,” she says.
Amy finished Western States in 27 hours 43 minutes, becoming the first amputee to finish the historic event. “It was harder than childbirth,” she told the Sacramento Bee in this article recapping the race.
Last fall, Amy was awarded the Women’s Sports Foundation’s Wilma Rudolph Courage Award.
“Courage is what we show when were faced with challenges,” Amy wrote in her blog. “Wilma Rudolf embodied the word courage, and for me to be the recipient of this year’s award is a lifetime honor not only for myself, but for my children and the people who support me. As a young child, sports was the foundation of who I am today and I hope because of this and what I have experienced we can make a difference and help others to be more courageous in their every day lives.”
Follow her racing career and inspiring performance on See Amy Run.org.