A 46-year-old female amputee became a worldwide inspiration after she completed a 140-mile marathon through the Sahara Desert. The grueling race has attracted thousands of runners for 34 years, called Marathon des Sables. In 2019, Amy Palmiero-Winters wanted to try her hand at the race held in southern Morocco.
The ultramarathon takes place over six days in temperatures that often soar to over 120 degrees. As if marathons aren’t already challenging, the scorching weather only adds to the intensity. Plus, runners must carry their supplies in backpacks across the desert and camp overnight to rest.
Runners face threats in the desert, including dangerously hot sand, venomous snakes, scorpions, and steep sand dunes. The terrain sometimes becomes rocky, testing athletes’ mental and physical fortitude.
As an amputee, Amy doesn’t allow her different abilities to keep her from achieving her goals. In fact, it only makes her push harder to overcome limitations and prove herself. She’s certainly not a typical athlete, proving that neither age nor disabilities have to define your potential. As long as you have the willpower, you can accomplish anything you want in life.
For the New York native, running called her name from a young age. She competed in track and cross country in high school, finding comfort and belonging in the athletic community. It also helped her escape from the many troubles she faced in her personal life.
In an interview with The New York Times, Amy said that sports instilled confidence in her. When she experienced something negative in life, she immediately went for a run to clear her head. It served as an outlet and a way to process the trauma she had been through.
Female Amputee Finds Meaning and Comfort in Running
Running helped Amy deal with a divorce, an alcoholic father, quitting college due to financial concerns, and enduring sexual assault as a teenager. Also, she experienced a motorcycle accident in 1994 that crushed her left leg.
Doctors tried everything they could to avoid amputating it, including multiple skin grafts and over thirty surgeries. However, after three long years, her ankle started to fuse, and she lost her foot function. Therefore, she finally opted to become an amputee but vowed to never give up her passion in life.
Shortly after the below-the-knee amputation, she kept that promise to herself and hit the trails once again. Since then, she’s competed in numerous races, including marathons, triathlons, Ironman triathlons, and extreme races, through harsh conditions.
Even though she’s never had the highest quality prosthetics, Amy never let that hinder her progress. In fact, she placed second in the Silver Strand Marathon in 2004 despite running on a prosthetic made solely for walking. Besides that, she was five months pregnant at the time.
In 2005, she placed third at the New York City Triathlon and first in her division at the Triathlon World Championships. After that, she finally received a more advanced prosthetic leg which took her athleticism to the next level. At that point, Amy surpassed several world records and inspired millions as the first female amputee to complete the Marathon des Sables.
She finished the race in 52 hours, 23 minutes, and 21 seconds and could barely walk after crossing the finish line. However, despite all the challenges she faced, she felt elated that she’d completed the marathon.
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She Hopes to Inspire Others to Challenge Themselves
On the first day of the race, she had an allergic reaction. On the third day, her skin began peeling and chafing inside the prosthesis, and she fell just a half-mile from the finish line. But, she pushed through the pain and exhaustion to accomplish her dream.
To make it over the mental hurdles, she drew inspiration from rappers like Eminem and Dr. Dre. Throughout the race, she listened to their music to keep herself motivated. Also, she pinned a short but sweet note to her backpack written by her 13-year-old daughter: “Good luck. I love you. Don’t die.”
Ultimately, her children were her greatest inspiration in completing the race. She didn’t do it for name or fame but to teach them a valuable lesson in perseverance. Life will always present obstacles, but we can choose how to respond to them.
In addition to being the first female amputee to complete the Marathon des Sables, Amy holds thirteen world records and numerous awards. In 2010, she won the James E. Sullivan Award for being the top amateur athlete in the United States. That same year, she received the ESPN ESPY Award as the world’s top female athlete with a disability.
In 2011, Amy became the first female amputee to finish the Badwater Ultramarathon, a 135-mile race beginning in Death Valley, California. The marathon begins at only 282 feet and ends at 8360 feet at the trailhead to Mount Whitney. It’s described as “the world’s toughest foot race,” perhaps only surpassed by the marathon in Morocco.
Today, Amy works as the founder and Director of Operations at One Step Ahead Foundation. The non-profit aims to build confidence and self-esteem in children with disabilities through sports. Since Amy found a sense of purpose and self-worth in running, she hopes to inspire others along the way.
Final Thoughts on Female Amputee Who Inspired Millions By Running Marathons
Most people would never dream of running a marathon or ultramarathon. However, female amputee Amy Palmiero-Winters shows the world what’s possible if you believe in yourself. She’s been an avid runner since her teenage years, completing numerous races and marathons.
Her greatest accomplishment thus far occurred in 2019 when she competed in the Marathon des Sables. The 140-mile race in the hot desert of Morocco challenges even the most demanding athletes.
They must carry all their belongings on their backs as they traverse the unforgiving desert. Amy had many setbacks throughout the race, including falling right before the finish line and experiencing pain from her prosthesis. Luckily, she pushed through and lived to tell the tale. Even as an amputee, she proves that you can accomplish anything if you keep going.