Amy Palmiero-Winters is the most courageous athlete that you have never heard of.
Born in Meadville, Pennsylvania—located near Lake Erie in the northwest corner of the Keystone State and birthplace of actress Sharon Stone—on August 18, 1972, Amy competed in track and distance running from a young age. A track and swimming star in high school, her life changed forever in 1994, when her left leg was crushed in a motorcycle accident. Three years and 25 surgeries later, Palmiero-Winters had her left leg amputated below the knee and was not able to run for three years.
The Silver Strand is a narrow stretch of land that connects Coronado to Imperial Beach, across the bay from San Diego. The Silver Strand Half Marathon is one of several endurance events offered in the fitness-crazed area. Starting in Coronado’s Sunset Park, the 13.1- mile course runs along State Route 75 before ending at the Imperial Beach Pier. In the autumn of 2004, Amy Palmiero-Winters decided to return to competitive running and entered the Silver Strand event. Five months pregnant and running on a prosthetic leg built only for walking, she finished second in her division. The following year, Amy entered the New York City Triathlon. Riding on a borrowed bicycle, she finished third in her division. Later that year, she won the Triathlon World Championships in Hawaii. Deciding to compete in running on a more serious level, Palmiero-Winters was fitted with a highly-customized prosthetic leg and joined Team A Step Ahead, a group of professionally-coached amputee athletes sponsored by A Step Ahead, the company that manufactured her leg. In 2006, she broke the world record for the fastest marathon in history for a below-knee female amputee by 25 minutes. Later that year, she ran the Chicago Marathon in 3:04, still the world record for a below-knee amputee, male or female.
In 2009, Amy decided to switch from running marathons–which cover 26.2 miles– to ultramarathons, races that are 50 miles or longer. In October 2009, she finished first in the female division at the Heartland 100 Mile event. On New Year’s Eve two months later, she was the top overall finisher—male or female—at the Run To The Future 24 hour road race in Arizona. Palmiero-Winters became the first amputee to win an ultramarathon– covering just over 130 miles in 24 hours.
Following the Arizona race, Amy was named to the U.S. team for the IAU 24 Hour Ultramarathon World Championships in France. Competing as the first amputee named to an able-bodied team, she finished 18th in the female division, running just under 124 miles. In June 2010, she became the first amputee to finish the Western States Endurance Run, completing the 100 mile race in 27 hours, 43 minutes. Two years later, she completed the Ultraman, a three-day triathlon event that included a 6.2 mile swim, 261 bike, and 52 mile run.
The Badwater Ultramarathon is billed as the “world’s toughest foot race.” Starting at Badwater, located 280 feet below sea level in California’s Death Valley, the race finishes at 8,300 foot Mount Whitney. Held in July when weather conditions are the most extreme, the 135 mile race is considered one of the most grueling competitions on the planet, with temperatures ranging from 130 degrees on the desert floor to freezing in the mountains. The course runs through three mountain ranges totaling 14,600 feet of vertical ascent and over 6,100 feet of descent. No course support is provided and very few are capable of finishing this demanding race, which participants are given 48 hours to accomplish. In 2011, Amy Palmiero-Waters became the first amputee to complete Badwater, covering the 135 mile course in 41 hours, 26 minutes to earn the coveted belt buckle that goes to all finishers.
Looking for fresh challenges, Amy entered the 2014 Death Race, were she covered 120 miles of running in the mountains of Vermont while wearing a 50-pound backpack filled with gear required to survive in the wilderness for several days. After 66 hours, she earned a “Finisher Skull,” as one of the brave few able to complete the race.
Amy Palmiero-Winters is the first amputee to win an ultramarathon outright. She holds a dozen world records in running events. Amy won her class at the International Triathlon Union World Championships in 2005 and 2006 and, the following year, became the first athlete with a disability invited to race in the New York City Triathlon. In 2006, she was named “Physically Challenged Athlete of the Year” by USA Triathlon and won the 2009 AAU Sullivan Award as the best amateur athlete in the United States, becoming the only physically challenged recipient in the 86 year history of the award. Amy won a 2010 ESPY in the “Top Female Athlete with a Disability” category and was named one of the “20 Most Inspiring” runners in the U.S. in 2013. A mother of two daughters, Amy Palmiero-Winters currently serves as a coach, motivational speaker and director of youth programs for Team A Step Ahead.
On this date in 2004, Amy Palmiero-Winters ran in her first race as an amputee, finishing second in her division at the Silver Strand Half Marathon near San Diego.