ING NYC Marathon pursued by single-leg amputee runner

October 25, 2013 5:48:48 PM PDT
I was on my couch when I first saw Sarah Reinertsen. It was the 2004 Hawaii Ironman Triathlon on TV. The single-leg amputee from Huntington, Long Island was one of the motivational features of the Triathlon's televised special.

The broadcasters told the back story of how when she was just seven-years-old, she had her leg amputated due to a tissue disorder. She loved sports but because of her disability she was usually last to be chosen and struggled to compete. But the young Sarah had a fierce desire to try.

She became competitive with an individual sport, as a runner, going for her own Personal Best . At the age of 21, she did her first ING NYC Marathon. The program I was watching was the 140-mile swim-bike run Ironman Hawaii. She did the swim, and next, the bike. Then the broadcast turned to a crushing disappointment as Sarah was disqualified when she failed to meet the qualifying time for the bike segment, over the time limit by just 15 minutes.

But her story did not end there. She tried again, and in 2005 came back to finish Ironman Hawaii in just over 15 hours. The first female single-leg amputee to ever complete the race. Tri!

I met Sarah in person the follow year, while she was in Chicago for a race. I introduced myself to her in the lobby of the Hilton Hotel. She was just as happy and spirited as I imagined she would be.

Recently, I caught up with her in New York City, while she was training for this year's ING NYC Marathon, which she will run with her husband.


It's ironic talking to Sarah about obstacles that runners face in training. After all, her challenge would prevent most people from ever entering a race.

Sarah told me, "I had to frame my life in a certain way. I had choice. I could sit and feel sorry for myself. It's like the old adage glass half empty or half full. I knew I had to live my life with the glass half full."

Because of a tissue disease, her leg was amputated when she was seven. Sarah learned to run at the age of 11, when another amputee taught her.

And by the age of 21, the New York native, who grew up watching the great race every November, entered her first ING NYC Marathon.

"The first time I did it on my walking leg, it's all I had. I didn't have a special leg," Sarah said.

Sarah says now she has a 36-thousand dollar, specially made, custom leg . Even though she lives in California with her husband, the Huntington-native routinely comes to get her leg adjusted through a company on Long Island, close to where she grew up.

"I'm still being raised in New York, I guess you could say," Sarah said.

The leg has a "c" curve.

"It's designed like a cheetah, which is the fastest land animal. The curved part is where it pushes off? it's built just for running," she said.

Sarah says she also has legs for biking and high heels.

A fitting combination for Ironman Finisher (that's the 140-mile swim, bike, run race in Hawaii).

"No woman on one leg had done it. That became my throw down. I wanted to show that a girl with one leg can do that too," she said.

It's true. Her can-do, always-tri, nothing is impossible attitude is how she began her first 26.2-mile race. But she says the lessons she gets from a lifestyle on the run are as precious as the race itself.

"They parallel the lessons of life. We all have tough days in life. But sometimes, you just have to push through walls, and move forward. And then come through on the other side. Just like in a marathon," Sarah said.

It's not surprising that she wants a personal best for this marathon. But she's also running for the Challenged Athletes Foundation, which funds athletes who need prosthetic limbs.

"I would like to go faster than 5 hours, 27 minutes, but my goal is have others get into the race," Sarah said.

If you run into challenges in training, Sarah's advice:

  • Make a goal and stick to your plan
  • Stay committed by finding a training buddy
  • Listen to your body - aches and pains
  • Don't lose sight of your goal
  • If you have injuries, talk to your doctor
  • Use equipment that works for your body
  • On why she works with the Challenged Athlete Foundation, Sarah says, "I know the difference it [running] has made in my life. The power of sport is not about running a race better, it's about being a fit, strong person."

    More ING NYC Marathon Blog

    Click here to see last year's blog