Women’s History Month: Sarah Reinertsen

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October 15, 2005. Forever a red-letter day for Sarah Reinertsen, this is the day that she became an Ironman. Sarah completed the hardest Ironman of all, the Ironman World Championships in Kona Hawaii, in 15 hours and 5 minutes.

Sarah’s dream had previously slid into nightmare in 2004, during her first try at the Ironman. After extreme racing hardship, she missed the bike cut off time by a mere 15 minutes. One year later, with the benefit of new coaching, intense training and  maximized nutrition regimes, Sarah resolved her previous frailties.

Sarah’s mother, Solveig Fuentes, was one of hordes of people waiting for Sarah to cross the finish line. Nothing could be heard over the chanting; “Sarah! Sarah! Sarah!” “We expected her to finish sometime after 11pm, so the throngs were surprised and thrilled when it happened at 10:05 pm, almost an hour before she was expected,” Solveig said. “I was watching her face as she crossed the line…She had a look of disbelief mixed with intense joy; as if she couldn’t believe her lifetime dream had really come true. For me, seeing Sarah realize this dream was even bigger than giving birth to her.”

Sarah’s achievements have no doubt inspired countless others to commit to their dreams, achieve their goals and to “Always Try!” Sarah will, of course, never stop reaching for the stars as she moves forward into new and more acclaimed adventures.

Sarah was born “different.”

Sarah’s left leg was deformed with a condition called proximal femoral focal deficiency (PFFD). Sarah maneuvered on a stiff leg brace from 11 months to 7 years old, when the decision was made to amputate her leg. Sarah was a Brownie, a great student and had a smile that lit up the room. But still, she was different, and every day at gym class it became more and more apparent. Sarah was always picked last for the team, always came in last on field day and her coaches and teachers did not encourage her in regular play with other kids. Instead, Sarah would kick a ball against the wall. Alone.

Life changed for Sarah when at age 11 she went to her first track meet for kids with disabilities. For the first time, Sarah was lined up next to other girls, girls like her. They were missing their legs too. When the gun went off for the 100 meter race she ran hard and finished first. For the first time in her life, she had won. The discovery that she could be an athlete was the defining moment of her life. Her world had all of a sudden opened up to an area she never thought would be a possibility for her. But how could an 11 year old girl without a leg be an athlete?

Blazing the Trail

From that point on, Sarah never looked back. She knew she was good. She also knew the only way to make sure the other girls born different did not kick balls against walls was to show them how to be athletes. Most people have role models, but when Sarah looked around she discovered there weren’t other women missing their leg above the knee who ran. In fact, there were very few amputees of any age running. Who would show her the way and how could she do this on a prosthetic leg made for walking?

This is when Sarah’s true difference came out. The only way for her to help other little girls was to be the first. It didn’t take long.

Technology to the Rescue

As an original member of Team Flex Foot, Sarah was one of the first amputees to test out a new running foot that would result in a technological breakthrough in prosthetics. The first time she tested the foot, she took more than 37 minutes off her marathon time. This new energy-storing carbon fiber foot opened the door for many amputees to do something tey had never done before: run. As a test patient, Sarah used her abilities as an elite athlete to fine-tune the product and revolutionize the sport of running for amputees. No longer using her walking prosthesis to run allowed her to focus on bigger goals.

Raising the Bar

Never one to aim low, Sarah chose the Ironman, a 2.4 mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2 mile run, as her competitive goal. The Ironman is one of the toughest races in the world for anyone, but Sarah has to be tougher than the rest to finish; she expends 40% more oxygen and twice the energy of people with two legs. Every stroke, every peddle, every step has to be fine-tuned to perfection. It is amazing she even qualified for a coveted Ironman spot; only two years prior Sarah had never been on a bike and her swimming was fair at best. But she worked hard, so once again she broke new ground and went where no amputee woman had gone before.

The Gift of Being Different

Sarah has devoted her life to overcome being different. What she has discovered is her difference has nothing to do with missing her left leg. She’s different because of her ability to be first and not fear what has never been done. By learning to run as an amputee when no one told her how, by helping to develop advanced prosthetics bringing more amputees to the sport of running, by being the world record holder in numerous running events, and by being the first amputee woman to conquer Ironman, Sarah has dared to do what no one before her has done.

That is Sarah’s difference.

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Originally published at AlwaysTri.net , Sarah’s home page.

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