N.Y. woman becomes first amputee to finish Western States 100 race
The exclamation point to a ground-breaking weekend at the Western States Endurance Run came at 8:43 a.m. Sunday from a 37-year-old woman who refuses to let others determine her limitations.
Amy Palmiero-Winters ran through two sunrises on a prosthetic left leg, overcoming several miles of snow in the high country and the demands of a narrow, rocky and sometimes dark trail to become the first amputee athlete to finish the 100-mile race from Squaw Valley to Auburn.
She gathered speed down the final hill, strode quickly around the Placer High School track and shook her left fist in the air on her last few steps to acknowledge the crowd's roar.
The 37th annual event boasted plenty of firsts, with first-time Western States entrant Geoff Roes smashing Scott Jurek's course record by more than 29 minutes and first-timer Tracy Garneau cruising to a 14-minute victory in the women's race.
So why not have another Western States rookie put the finishing touches on an extraordinary two days?
"Harder than childbirth," said Palmiero-Winters, who finished in 27 hours, 43 minutes, 10 seconds. "It was tougher than I thought."
But Palmiero-Winters, of Hicksville, N.Y., didn't flinch at the prospect of testing her mind, body and spirit on a course she had never seen before last week.
There was too much at stake. Not for her, or her two children, although she conceded she normally runs "the crazy things I run" to show Carson, 6, and Madilynn, 5, the importance of a life without limits.
This was for Pat Griskus, an amputee runner who died in a 1987 accident before he had a chance to run the Western States.
"He wanted to be the first," said Palmiero-Winters, who planned to give her finisher's buckle to Griskus' family. "It was definitely a great experience. It was definitely an honor to be a part of the race."
Palmiero-Winters, a sports program director for a prosthetics company, has fashioned an impressive ultrarunning résumé since a 1994 motorcycle accident led to more than 25 surgeries and the eventual amputation of her lower left leg.
She ran in 10 ultras last year, winning the women's title in the Heartland 100 in Cassoday, Kan. On Jan. 1, she became the first amputee to qualify for a U.S. national track team when she captured the Run to the Future 24-hour race in Glendale, Ariz., by covering 130.4 miles.
She also received the 2009 Sullivan Award, given annually to the nation's most outstanding amateur athlete.
Saturday and Sunday, in a race that features 18,000 feet of climbs and 23,000 feet of descents, the threat of kidney failure, heat stroke and hyponatremia, and potential encounters with bears, snakes and mountain lions, Palmiero-Winters showed true grit.
"She was amazing," said Heather Perry, who paced Palmiero-Winters in the final 38 miles. "That was one of the easiest pacing jobs I've ever had. She was totally strong, did not waver for one second.
"I had no doubt about her."