Raised to Run: Sarah Reinertsen

Posted: January 6, 2013 in Running
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Always Tri

I was on my couch when I was first introduced to Sarah Reinertsen. It was the 2004 Hawaii Ironman Triathlon on TV. The single leg amputee from Huntington Long Island was one of the motivational features of the Triathlon’s televised special… the broadcasters told the back story of how when she was just 7-years-old she had her leg amputated due to a tissue disorder.  She loved sports but because of her disability she was usually last to be chosen and struggled to compete. But the young Sarah had a fierce desire to try.  She became competitive with an individual sport – as a runner – going for her own Personal Best.  At the age of 21 she did her first NYC Marathon… the program I was watching was the 140-mile swim/bike/run IRONMAN HAWAII!  She did the swim, then the bike!  …then the broadcast turned to a crushing disappointment as Sarah was disqualified when she failed to meet the qualifying time for the bike segment – over the time limit by just 15 minutes.  But.  Her story did not end there.  She tried again, and in 2005 came back to finish IRONMAN HAWAII in just over 15 hours. The first female single amputee to ever complete the race. Tri! 

I met Sarah in person the following year while she was in Chicago for a race. I introduced myself to her in the lobby of the Hilton Hotel.  She was just as happy and spirited as I imagined she would be. Recently, I caught up her in NYC while she was training for this year’s NYC ING Marathon which she will run with her husband.


It’s ironic talking to Sarah Reinertsen about obstacles that runners face in training.  Afterall, her challenge would prevent most people from ever entering a race.  Sarah told me. “I had to frame my life in a certain way.  I had a choice.  I  could sit and feel sorry for myself. It’s like the old adage glass half empty or half full I knew I had to live my life with the glass half full.” Because of a tissue disease, her leg was amputated when she was seven.   Sarah learned to run at the age of 11 when another amputee taught her.  And by the age of 21 – the NY native who grew up watching the great race every November – entered her first NYC marathon.  “The first time I did it on my walking  leg, it’s all I had.  I didn’t have a special leg.” Sarah says now she has a 36-thousand dollar specially made, custom leg.  Even though she lives in California with her husband, the Huntington native routinely come to get her leg adjusted through a company which is on Long Island close to where she grew up.   “I m still being raised in NY I guess you could say.”

The leg has a “c” curve. It’s designed like cheetah which is the fastest land animal.  The curved part is where is pushes off… it’s built just for running.”  Sarah says she also has legs for biking and high heels!  A fitting combination for Ironman Finisher – that’s the 140-mile swim bike run race in Hawaii if you were wondering.  “No woman on one leg had done it.  That became my throw down.   I wanted to show that a girl with one leg can do that too!”   It’s true.  Her can-do, always-tri, nothing is impossible attitude is how she began her first 26.2 mile race.  But she says the lessons she gets from a lifestyle on the run… are as precious as the race itself.  “They parallel the lessons of life.  We all have tough days in life.  But sometimes you just have to push through wall and  move forward.  And then come through on the other side. Just like in a marathon.”  Not surprising she wants a personal best for this marathon.  But she’s also running for the Challenged Athletes Foundationwhich funds athletes who need prostetic limbs. “I would like to go faster than 5 hours 27 minutes but my goal is to have others get into the race!”

SarahIf you run into challenges in training, Sarah’s advice:


  • Make a Goal and Stick to your Plan   
  • Stay Committed by Find a training buddy
  • Listen to your body – aches and pains
  • Don’t lose sight of your goal 
  • If you have injuries, Talk to your Doctor
  • Use equipment that works for your body



Sarah on why she works with the Challenged Athlete Foundation:

“I know the difference it (running) has made in my life. The power of sport is not about running a race better human being a fit strong person.”



Amy interviews Sarah

AMY:  What attracts you to the Marathon?

SARAH:  “The

 greater the distance, the greater the glory. That’s what makes crossing the finish line in Central Park so special.  It’s quite a long journey.  We always talk about race day, those 26 miles.  But it’s really all the miles you do during training.  When there are no crowds, when no one is cheering you on.  That is the hard part.” 


AMY:  How do you stay motivated? Overcome Challenges? What inspires you to go on when you hit a wall?  

“Everybody has bad days.  we all have bad days  but you won’t experience great highs if you don’t go through a few lows. That’s part of the journey. That’s what the marathon is about, it’s about the total journey to get there. Marathoning gives us life lessons… the training, the injuries, the race.  They parallel the lessons of life.  We all have tough days in life.  But sometimes you just have to push through wall and  move forward.  And then come through on the other side. Just like in a marathon.” 

AMY:  Most people would see your situation as an obstacle.  Where does your light, your energy, your drive come from?

Amy F

Great Lawn Central Park

 SARAH:  “Because I grew up with my disability I had to frame my life in a certain way.  I had a choice. I could sit on courch and feel sorry for myself…  oh gosh I’m missing my leg, ohhh poor me. It’s like the old adage. Do you see the glass half full or half empty.  I knew if I wanted to live my life, I had to see it half full.  I couldn’t say I don’t have a leg.  Instead, look I have these two arms  and my other leg and all these positives… this one blemish can’t drag me down. Learning that basic lesson in life,  it has served me well.”


Sarah and Amy in Central Park


Sarah was named a Hero of Running in Runner’s World 2004:

The Inspiration: Sarah Reinertsen

“When Sarah Reinertsen was a kid, she was told she’d never be able to run. This year, Reinertsen, 29, became the first female with a prosthetic leg to enter the Hawaii Ironman-which involves a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike, and a 26.2-mile run. Reinertsen’s left leg was amputated above the knee when she was 7 because of a tissue deficiency. She started running when she was 11, and in 1997 she completed her first marathon. After running six more-with a PR of 5:27:04-she started competing in triathlons. In 2003, she won the female leg-amputee division of the International Triathlon Union World Championships in New Zealand. “Athletics have given me the opportunity to prove that I’m just like everyone else,” she says. Reinertsen doesn’t wear a prosthetic to swim, so she has to hop out of the water and strap on her nine-pound running prosthetic to get to the transition area. There she switches to a prosthetic that has a bike cleat bolted to it. She has to change back to the running one for the marathon. Reinertsen, who lives in Solana Beach, California, works as a program manager at Challenged Athletes Foundation. “I want to help the disabled community break down barriers,” she says. “I love my life. I wouldn’t want to be any other way.””



The sky during our interview!



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