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Running on plenty
By Lei Lei ( China Daily )

 Running on plenty

Sarah Reinertsen in the 10k event at The Great Wall Marathon on Saturday in Tianjin, China. It was the first time a female above-knee amputee participated in The Great Wall Marathon since it first started in 1999. Reinertsen crossed the finish line in 1 hr 49 min 46 sec. Provided to China Daily

Running on plenty

Three-time triathlon world champion is now eyeing a fourth amputee world title and a Paralympic gold medal, Lei Lei reports

Sarah Reinertsen easily impresses people with her ever-smiling face and slim and fit figure. If you don't pay close attention, you cannot even discover she is an amputee above the left knee. Losing a leg at the age of seven, Reinertsen didn't choose to roam the world in a wheelchair, but instead challenged herself to become a runner and triathlon athlete.

"I didn't at first learn how to run after I lost my leg. For physical therapy, they teach you to walk a little bit, but they don't teach you how to run. So I just missed running. Once I learned how, I loved it. I wanted to do it more," said the 36-year-old American.

"There is also an appeal to do the thing that's least expected of you. So if you are missing a leg, it seems like running is the last thing you do, but that's what I like about it."

Being born with proximal femoral focal deficiency, a bone-growth disorder, Reinertsen had to become an above-the-knee amputee at seven.

Always being teased by other children at that early age was difficult for her, but she quickly changed the situation.

"The most difficult experience for me probably was being made fun of because of my disability. But from that bad feeling, I turned it into a good one. It fueled my engine to just prove them wrong," she said.

Picking up running at the age of 11, Reinertsen broke the 100m world record for female above-the-knee amputees at the age of 13 and she still holds the record of 17.99 seconds.

For Reinertsen, running is a way to challenge herself.

"If I run with the two-leg people, sometimes they beat me, sometimes not. But your biggest competitor is the clock. So there is a measurable way to chart your progress and I don't always think about the two-leg people being faster. It is just that I'm faster than before," Reinertsen told China Daily

"Running has changed my life. Running has brought me to places, countries like China. That's been surprising. When I run, I feel whole. I don't feel disabled. My arms pump, my legs pump and everything works together."

Last Saturday, she completed the 10k run in The Great Wall Marathon, in Tianjin, China. It was the first time a female above-knee amputee participated in the event since its inception in 1999. Reinersten crossed the finish line in 1 hour, 49 minutes and 46 seconds with a specially-designed c-shaped carbon composite prosthetic foot, called the Flex-Run, which is designed for long-distance running by Ossur.

"I am thrilled to be in China and definitely consider the Great Wall to be one of my most challenging races to date," said Reinertsen, who was in Beijing last week to share her story with athletes with disabilities.

"There were some areas of the Wall where I needed to work a little harder, such as scaling some of the higher steps and coming down rough and unstable ground as well. But this was truly inspiring and a lot of fun. I definitely would love to come back and do this race again," she said.

However, running itself is not enough of a challenge for Reinertsen as she is also an ironman athlete, which features running, swimming and biking.

"I kept seeing men with amputations do the ironman. Many of my friends do it and I thought if they can do it, I can do it too," she said.

"After I broke six hours in the marathon. I knew I could do the ironman. I knew I was fast enough.

"We have a long lifetime to try a lot of sports. To keep it interesting, you have to keep challenging yourself. Otherwise you get bored.

"Certainly I thought about giving up, but I didn't. I think there is no worse feeling than if you quit," she said. "If you allow yourself to quit, then you are disappointing yourself and you always wonder what if? what if? Quitting is not an option."

Outside of sports, Reinertsen got a Masters degree in broadcast journalism in 2000 from the University of Southern California. After working as a sports journalist for several years, she decided to concentrate on triathlon training and become a motivational speaker.

"Sport is my passion. My Masters is in journalism. So it was great to be a reporter in sports because they are the two things I love. I only left journalism because I wanted to pursue my own sport. I knew if I did both I wouldn't be able to reach my goal in doing ironman," Reinertsen said.

As a successful athlete with a disability, Reinertsen was pictured partially nude in ESPN the Magazine's body issue. For her, showing her physique to the public was not something awkward, but a way to change people's perceptions of the disabled.

"I was the only person with a disability that was asked to be in the issue. So I thought it was important to show that a person with a disability should be included in that issue," she said.

"It changes ideas. People should see disability as beautiful and sexy."

The next goal for Reinertsen, the three-time amputee triathlon world champion, is the 2011 World Championships in September in Beijing.

"My goal is to win the world title. I have three world champion titles in triathlon. I won in 2009 and lost in 2010. So in 2011, I'm taking it back," she said.

An even more ambitious goal is the 2016 Paralympics, where para-triathlon is listed as a Paralympic sport for the first time.

"My aim is to be on the US team at the 2016 Paralympics. So I just have to stay healthy and hope to be there," she said.

"Of course I want a Paralympic medal. Any color will do. But I think any athlete has to know that sports, like life, are sometimes full of disappointment. So you have to appreciate the journey even if you don't get to the destination you want. But, of course, I'm going for gold."

(China Daily 05/26/2011 page23)

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