The gift of running

Courtesy of Sarah Reinertsen

Boston bombing survivors Celeste Corcoran, Heather Abbott and Roseann Sdoia at a Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) run with Jami Goldman-Marseilles (far left), a CAF mentor.

Just like every journey begins with the first step, every marathon begins with the first run. As I make my way to Boston to run the marathon I can’t help but reflect on the journey it took for me to get to this start line, my 11th marathon.

I was born with a bone-growth disorder, and my left leg was amputated when I was 7. Becoming a runner profoundly changed my life, and I’m forever grateful to the sport that helped me to heal, and to feel beautiful and whole again.

While I am proud of all my victorious moments in sports -- I have competed in the Paralympics, won world championships, and set records in running and Ironman triathlons -- these days, my most satisfying accomplishments in sports are when I’m helping other people with disabilities get active again.

Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Sarah Reinertsen was the first female leg amputee to ever finish the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii.

For more than a decade I’ve been working with the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) and Ossur prosthetics to bring mobility-and-run clinics to amputees around the globe. When you have an amputation, your insurance may get you a few weeks of physical therapy in which you learn to walk and and to go up and down stairs, but learning to run is not a skill that’s usually covered in your sessions.

As a result, many amputees don’t know how to run. Not that every amputee has to be a runner, but running is a life skill we all should have the opportunity to learn! These mobility clinics empower amputees so they can chase their kids or grandkids, run the bases on their company softball team, run in case of emergency or, if they want to, run for fun in their local road race.

The last time I was in Boston was last October for a CAF/Ossur run clinic at Harvard University. Amputees from all over New England came to the clinic, including several of the Boston bombing survivors who’d lost limbs. The night before the clinic we gave Boston survivor Heather Abbott her first running prosthetic at a reception at the Nike store. It was such a joy to see Heather take those first strides on her new Flex-Run running prosthetic, bounding across the field and smiling.

Learning to run is only the first hurdle for an amputee -- the next challenge is actually getting a running prosthetic. That’s where CAF and Ossur have partnered to make a difference. Insurance companies don’t typically pay for running or sports prosthetics -- they cover only a walking leg -- so if you want a running prosthetic you have to pay out of pocket, an expense that can run $20,000 to $40,000, depending on your level of amputation. It is another reason why I’m so passionate about the work we do at CAF: to make sure that there is access to this technology for all.

This year I will be running the Boston Marathon in support of CAF, so that we can provide more running limbs to the Boston bombing survivors. As thousands of athletes line up in Hopkinton on Monday, runners around the world can run “with us” to make a difference. For every mile logged through the Nike+ running app on April 21, Nike will contribute $1 to the Challenged Athletes Foundation. Please run with me on Monday and tag your run #StrongerEveryRun.

Together we can heal our hearts and move forward as we each find our strength, step by step.

I also will be tweeting from the Marathon course! You can follow me @AlwaysTri