Amy Palmiero-Winters is proof that limb loss doesn't mean giving up on the things one loves. She began breaking world records a couple of years after losing her lower left leg in 1997, following a horrific motorcycle accident in 1994, and she shows no signs of stopping soon.
Palmiero-Winters' early running career after limb loss amputation has shown her mettle as an adaptive athlete. She joined the Silver Strand Marathon in 2004, where she finished second in her division despite running on a prosthetic leg meant for walking and being five months pregnant. She joined the New York City Triathlon the following year, still using her walking prosthetic leg and a bike she borrowed from her employer. She placed third in her division.
She finished second in her division despite running on a prosthetic leg meant for walking and being five months pregnant.
After these early successes, Palmiero-Winters decided to take running more seriously. She received a custom-built prosthesis from A Step Ahead. Then she moved to New York for good to be a part of Team A Step Ahead, which consists of amputee athletes, all professionally coached and sponsored by A Step Ahead Prosthetics.
Shortly after joining the team, Palmiero-Winters logged her first world record when she joined the 2006 New York City Marathon, which she finished in 3 hours and 24 minutes. She broke the world record for a below-knee female amputee by more than 25 minutes.
2009 was the year Palmiero-Winters entered demanding ultramarathons. Between 2009 and 2010, she joined ten ultramarathons. She eventually finished first overall at the 2009 Arizona Road Racers Run to the Future, a 24-hour race where she logged 130.4 miles within the allotted time. Her success marked the first time an amputee won an ultramarathon.
That race paved the way for her membership to the US ultrarunning team, marking the first time an amputee has joined a US able-bodied championship team. They entered the IAU 24-Hour Ultramarathon World Championships in France.
Palmiero-Winters was the first female amputee to finish the grueling Marathon Des Sables.
Palmiero-Winters achieved a couple more firsts after that. She became the first amputee to finish the 2010 Western States Endurance Run, where she covered 100 miles in 27 hours, 43 minutes, and 10 seconds. Then she was recognized as the first female amputee to finish the Badwater Ultramarathon, known as a brutal 135-mile race from Death Valley to Mount Whitney. Athletes ran on a trail head at 8,300ft. And in 2019, Palmiero-Winters was the first female amputee to finish the grueling Marathon Des Sables.
Running the Marathon Des Sables
The Marathon Des Sables was Palmiero-Winters’ most formidable challenge yet. In southern Morocco, she and other participants conquered a 140-mile journey in relentless heat over sand dunes, stony plateaus, salt flats, and dry valleys. Traversing the route took six days.
She prepared for the race by performing burpees and lunges in a sauna and carrying her fiance's two young boys on her shoulders and back when she was running and doing crawls. This helped her get used to the heaviness of a backpack.
Born to run
Throughout Palmiero-Winters' childhood, running was a massive part of her life. She ran cross-country and track in high school. She also ran from her family's drive-in to deliver chicken wing orders to softball tournaments.
In an interview with The Independent, Palmiero-Winters said that running and sports gave her self-confidence and comfort. Whenever something terrible happened to her, being active kept her from being swallowed by darkness.
Palmiero-Winters continues to break world records, global pandemic notwithstanding. On May 31, 2020, she ran 102.93 miles on a treadmill while wearing a prosthetic leg. She finished the race in 21 hours and 52 minutes. However, this attempt wasn't recognized by the Guinness World Records. So, on July 10, 2021, Palmiero-Winters took to the treadmill again, completing 100 miles in 21 hours, 43 minutes, and 29 seconds. Her second and official attempt surpassed her first.
Palmiero-Winters continues to break world records, global pandemic notwithstanding.
Despite her achievements, Palmiero-Winters is still human. She also relies on a solid support system to get through the hard times. She didn't prepare as usual during the second treadmill run, so she suffered from horrible cramps after the first five hours. But her team members cheered her on and supplied her with food and fluids.
Keep on keeping on
After her pandemic stints, Palmiero-Winters is still on a roll. She's looking forward to beating more world records, like establishing the world record for burpees in 24 hours while wearing a prosthetic leg.
Palmiero-Winters will keep on keeping on because, for her, running is a lot like life, there are highs and lows, and there will be times when you want to stop and then run as fast as possible. In an interview for the Guinness World Records, she said that just like life, "how you feel in the moment will pass. But the feeling of quitting and not doing your best at the moment will never go away."