By Penny Arévalo
For 10 years, Orange County triathlete Sarah Reinertsen has been encouraging those without legs to see past their limitations at “mobility clinics” sponsored by Challenged Athletes Foundation of San Diego.
But a recent clinic was different. Even having worked with American soldiers, never before had she stood in front of a such a large group of amputees resulting from the same incident.
Three people died and more than 260 were injured in May when two pressure cooker bombs exploded seconds apart near the finish line in what the UK Mirror called the second worst act of terror on U.S. soil since 9/11.
Many of the victims weren’t runners that fateful day. They weren't even necessarily athletes. They were spectators, cheering on loved ones participating in the world's most famous running event.
They’re also dealing with other varied injuries connected to the bombing such as shrapnel wounds and loss of hearing.
Last week about 50 amputees—including many survivors of the Boston
Marathon bombings—showed up on a wet Harvard University athletic field to hear from mentor Reinertsen, a San Juan Capistrano resident maybe most famous for her stint on The Amazing Race.
But even if they don’t have plans to join Reinertsen at the San
Diego Triathlon in La Jolla this Sunday or at the New York Marathon in November,
they still must become athletes in their own right.
That’s because amputees who wear prosthetic legs take in 40 percent more oxygen and expend twice the amount of energy just to get around, according to Reinertsen.
“Putting on a prosthetic leg every day … it’s not the simplest, easiest thing all the time,” she said.
As Reinertsen stood before those learning a new normal, she didn’t want to put undue pressure on them to become marathon runners or triathletes. But she did want them to see past their current circumstances.
One of the best things about sports as an amputee is that it takes you “out of your head,” Reinertsen explained. “We all need a way to sweat it out.”
Clearly, some of the Boston Marathon victims weren't ready. With the incident not six months in the past, many have stumps still adjusting to the demand; they often shrink, then grow with muscle, then settle in.
But one woman was ready. Heather Abbott, who had her left leg amputated after the marathon explosions, had already gotten used to life with several prosthetics: one for everyday use, one for swimming and one for high heels, according to the Associated Press.
A day before Reinertsen's mobility clinic, Oct. 5, Abbott received a prosthetic for running using the blade technology made famous by Olympian Oscar Pistorius. It was donated by an Orange County company, Foothill Ranch-based Össur Americas.
“It was really great to be able to witness [the marathon victims] take their first steps and Heather do her first run,” Reinertsen said.
Though they may not end up athletes in the traditional sense, Reinertsen hopes all will soon be able to run their own races—to scrambl after a child they're babysitting, to catch a bus or to move easily in a crowd.
To do all of the things they could before April. 15.