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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
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by Stephanie Starr

. photo by Elizabeth Kreutz


ifferent is often a label that comes with negative connotations. Yet, one woman has turned it into a battle cry to inspire a change in how those who are differently able are perceived. You no longer have to be perfect to be an athlete. Just determined. Sarah Reinertsen has been different her entire life. As a child born with femoral focal deficiency (PFFD), one of Sarah’s legs was deformed. Up until the age of 7, she wore a cumbersome brace in an attempt to even out the disparity. It didn’t help. 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 alone kicking a ball against the wall while the others, teachers included, went about their activities.

photo by Rich Cruse


It wasn’t until age 11, when Sarah met New York Physical 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 things other athletes did. Just because there weren’t any other female above-the-knee amputees out there doing marathons 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 enough to 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 meet for kids like herself. Here she wasn’t alone. There were other kids around her who were different. And they weren’t accepting that throw-away label as a license to feel sorry for themselves and not participate. And neither would she. Sarah lined up with the others and gave the 100-meter race everything she had. It was her first taste of victory, the first time she’d won anything, and it left her hungry for more.

Now comfortable with the new prosthetic, Sarah set her sites on even larger goals. She recalls the day she made the decision to enter the Ironman Triathlon. “I'd seen it on TV and thought that looked so incredibly cool and unbelievable and outrageous,” Reinertsen says. It was irresistible as a goal. Known as one of the most grueling triathlons an athlete can undertake, the Ironman attracts competitors from around the world. This event chews up even the best athletes in their prime as they go through a course that includes a 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 she had in the past to make it happen. That meant attacking her weaknesses and fine-tuning her performance in all three of those sports. “The biking, that was my newest sport and I 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 bike and that kept her from completing the event. But rather than pack up her gear and accept defeat, Sarah formulated a plan for the next year. She hired Trainer Paul Huddle and 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 coach and I asked for help.” Working with Huddle, Sarah changed both her training and diet regimen. She implemented supplements such as a multivitamin, protein shakes, gels and recovery drinks to support her performance.

Since that day Sarah has racked up more than a few world records in her division. She was the youngest member of the 1992 US Paralympic Team and has conquered multiple half marathons as well as seven full marathons. As a member of the original Team Flex Foot, Sarah was part of the group responsible for testing out a new athletic prosthetic now available on the market. This incredible limb allows better movement and speed than a traditional prosthetic leg. However, being one of the first ment, yet again, that Sarah would forge the way for others without anyone to show her how it could be done.

“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.”

“I eat well-balanced meals. After training I drink a shake. I eat before I ride, during the ride and after the ride. The biggest issue was finding what works on the bike while training.” Discovering that Cytosport’s Cytomax worked well for her and she could digest it easily, Sarah drank it religiously during 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 22 to 24 hours a week during a heavy cycle and a minimum of 8 to 15 hours a week during a light one. Her full-time job made 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

“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 at how much time it took off her racing performance. No longer was she hindered by a cumbersome prosthetic leg designed for just walking; with the new athletic leg she shaved 37 minutes off her race time. Thanks to Sarah and other athletes like her in the test group, this energy-storing carbon fiber foot was improved and the door opened for other amputee athletes to reap the benefits.

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photo by Rich Cruse

“Make an appointment that helps you stay motivated. Train with someone a little faster than you, someone that pushes you harder.”
“Make an appointment that helps you stay motivated. Train with someone who is a little faster than you are, someone that pushes you harder.” Reinertsen suggests signing up for your events early when you do decide you want to compete. “If you have signed up for it and you are committed to it, the training is easier. It gives you a purpose.”

of the sacrifice. This year it was all worth it. That finish line made everything worth it.”

Now that she’s won the physically challenged women’s division of the Ironman, becoming the first female above-theknee athlete to do so, Sarah continues to pursue new goals while inspiring other athletes to do the same. She works for Ossur, 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 to train with other people.

For those athletes just starting out, she suggests checking out the Challenged Athletes Foundation. This organization gives grants to athletes with disabilities so that they can afford the prosthetics used in sporting events. The running leg Sarah uses is $5,000 alone. More often than not, those who are disabled have a hard enough time affording one prosthetic appendage let alone an additional one for competitive events. You can visit the Challenged Athletes Foundation at www.challengedathletes.org. To learn more about Sarah Reinertsen or to hire her as a motivational speaker, visit www.iamsarah.org.


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How Sarah’s Leg Works
Sarah Reinertsen’s leg is made entirely of carbon fiber for it's superior strength and flexibility, as are all of Ossur’s Flex Foot products. Aside from absorbing shock, the full-length toe lever helps simulate ankle motion for an easier stride and more natural movement. The separate options that make up the leg are assembled separately and attached by valves. They can be swapped out to meet the needs of the athlete.
DermoSilTM Silicone

Iceross® T ransfemoral Seal-In™
This advanced seal-in liner eliminates the need for donning aids and is easy to attach. The athlete simply places the liner on and steps into the socket. Suspension is automatically created by an integrated hypobaric sealing membrane which conforms to your leg to provide an airtight seal.. The Iceross® Transfemoral Seal-In™ is designed to protect skin health and comfort while stabilizing soft tissue and minimizing pistoning.
F ull-length matrix outer cover

Hypobaric Sealing Membrane

Advanced Rotation Control & soft distal pad

MARCH 2006


T otal Knee® 2100
Designed to withstand the weight of adults up to 275 pounds, the Total Knee 2100 is made up of an aluminum frame that weighs a mere 925 grams! This specialized knee joint is very strong despite its light weight and has a hydraulic swing control system that is reliable and durable thanks to its needle bearings. The TK2100 requires less energy to manipulate than many other prosthetic knees and is designed specifically to avoid collapsing while in full extension. Yes, the knee joint in this diagram is facing the correct direction. The valve attachments help fit it to the other parts perfectly.
Geometric lock


Shock absorption

Light weight and efficient

P26 Flex-RunTM
This custom foot module is recommended for distance running. It is light weight and efficient. Compliments of:


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