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Athlete Sarah Reinertsen becomes the first above-the-knee amputee to finish the Ironman Triathlon. by Stephanie Starr

Athlete Sarah Reinertsen becomes the first above-the-knee amputee to finish the Ironman Triathlon. by Stephanie Starr



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Published by Stephanie Starr
Athlete Sarah Reinertsen becomes the first above-the-knee amputee to finish the Ironman Triathlon. by Stephanie Starr
Athlete Sarah Reinertsen becomes the first above-the-knee amputee to finish the Ironman Triathlon. by Stephanie Starr

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Published by: Stephanie Starr on Oct 02, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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by Stephanie Starr 
 photo by Elizabeth Kreutz
ifferent is often a label that comes withnegative connotations. Yet, one womanhas turned it into a battle cry to inspire achange in how those who are differently able are perceived. You no longer have to be perfect to beanathlete. Just determined.Sarah Reinertsen has been different her entirelife. As a child born with femoral focal deficiency(PFFD), one of Sarah’s legs was deformed. Upuntil the age of 7, she wore a cumbersome bracein an attempt to even out the disparity. It didn’thelp. Ultimately the doctors needed to amputate,leaving Sarah with yet another challenge to conquer.No one bothered to include the little girl with a prosthetic leg during gym class. Sarah stood alonekicking a ball against the wall while the others,teachers included, went about their activities.
It wasn’t until age 11, when Sarah met New YorkPhysical Therapist David Balsley, that things changed.Balsley was an extreme runner who saw no reason as to why Sarah couldn’t train her body to do all the thingsother athletes did. Just because there weren’t any otherfemale above-the-knee amputees out there doingmarathons to learn from, didn’t mean it wasn’t possible.They just had to be pioneers to do it.“He had me in the gym when I was 11/12 years old lifting weights, doing anything to make my body strong enoughto do the running, to balance on that prosthetic side,”Reinertsen says. “Running really is a total body sport, you’re using all of it.”Finally, Sarah attended a track meetfor kids like herself. Here she wasn’talone. There were other kids aroundher who were different. And they weren’t accepting that throw-awaylabel as a license to feel sorry forthemselves and not participate. Andneither would she.Sarah lined up with the others andgave the 100-meter race everythingshehad. It was her first taste of victory,the first time she’d won anything,and it left her hungry for more.Since that day Sarah has racked upmore than a few world records in herdivision. She was the youngest memberof the 1992 USParalympic Team andhas conquered multiple half marathonsas well as seven full marathons. As amember of the original Team FlexFoot, Sarah was part of the groupresponsible for testing out a newathletic prosthetic now available onthe market. This incredible limballows better movement and speedthan a traditional prosthetic leg.However, being one of the first ment, yetagain, that Sarah would forge the way for others withoutanyone to show her how it could be done.“We were just trial-and-erroring it. When they came out with this new design I had to relearn to run as I knew it.”Once she had the movements down, she was amazed athow much time it took off her racing performance. Nolonger was she hindered by a cumbersome prosthetic legdesigned for just walking; with the new athletic leg sheshaved 37 minutes off her race time.Thanks to Sarah and other athletes like her in the testgroup, this energy-storing carbon fiber foot was improvedand the door opened for other amputee athletes to reapthebenefits.
Now comfortable with the new prosthetic, Sarah set hersites on even larger goals. She recalls the day she madethe decision to enter the Ironman Triathlon.“I'd seen it on TV and thought that looked so incrediblycool and unbelievable and outrageous,” Reinertsen says.It was irresistible as a goal.Known as one of the most grueling triathlons an athletecan undertake, the Ironman attracts competitors fromaround the world. This event chews up even the best athletesin their prime as they go through a course that includesa 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike race and a 26.2-mile run.Sarah knew she’d need to push herself even harder than shehad in the past to make it happen. That meantattacking her weaknesses and fine-tuning her performance in all three of those sports.“The biking, that was my newest sport andI had to make up the most time,” she says.In fact, it was the bike that was her sticking point during her first Ironman in 2004. She was 15 minutes from the cut off on the bikeand that kept her from completing theevent. But rather than pack up her gear andaccept defeat, Sarah formulated a plan forthe next year. She hired Trainer Paul Huddleand immediately went to work.“It comes down to the training,” she says.“It’s what you do before the race that matters.The training that I did, I gave it 110 percent.That was my strategy. I found a great coachand I asked for help.”Working with Huddle, Sarah changed both hertraining and diet regimen. She implementedsupplements such as a multivitamin, proteinshakes, gels and recovery drinks to supporther performance.“I eat well-balanced meals. After training Idrink a shake. I eat before I ride, during theride and after the ride. The biggest issue was finding what works on the bike while training.”Discovering that Cytosport’s Cytomax worked well for herand she could digest it easily, Sarah drank it religiouslyduring her rides. She monitored her intake of calories while training and consumed approximately 150 calories per hour to ensure she kept up her energy.Armed with the right fuel in her body, Sarah trained 22to 24 hours a week during a heavy cycle and a minimumof 8 to 15 hours a week during a light one. Her full-time jobmade it a challenge, but she was willing to make the sacrifice.“I didn't have much of a life outside of working and training,”she says. “If you want something bad enough that is part
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“If you want something bad enough that is part of the sacrifice.This year it was all worth it. That finishline made everything worth it.” 
of the sacrifice. This year it was all worth it. That finishline made everything worth it.”
Now that she’s won the physically challenged women’s divi-sion of the Ironman, becoming the first female above-the-knee athlete to do so, Sarah continues to pursue new goals while inspiring other athletes to do the same. She works forOssur, the company that manufactures the prosthetic parts she wears and travels all over the world as a motivational speaker.One of the key’s to motivation in athletics, she says, is totrain with other people.“Make an appointment thathelps you stay motivated. Train with someone who is a littlefaster than you are, someonethat pushes you harder.”Reinertsen suggests signing upfor your events early when youdo decide you want to compete.“If you have signed up for itand you are committed to it,the training is easier. It gives you a purpose.”For those athletes just startingout, she suggests checking outthe Challenged AthletesFoundation. This organizationgives grants to athletes with disabilities so that they canafford the prosthetics used in sporting events. Therunning leg Sarah uses is $5,000 alone. More often thannot, those who are disabled have a hard enough timeaffording one prosthetic appendage let alone an additionalone for competitive events.You can visit the Challenged Athletes Foundation at
.To learn more about Sarah Reinertsen or to hire her as amotivational speaker, visit
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“Make an appointment that helps  you stay motivated.Train with someonelittle faster than you,someone that pushes  you harder.” 
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