Jill Krementz revisits Sarah Reinertsen

Sarah Reinertsen.
When Sarah Reinertsen was just seven when she had her leg amputated above the knee because of a congenital birth defect. She was told that she would never be able to run. In 2004, at the age of 29, Sarah became the first female with a prosthetic leg to enter the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii that involves a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run. She recently competed in The Amazing Race series on television.

Sarah Reinertsen, age 14, from my book, How It Feels to Live With a Physical Disability.
Readers of my NYSD Photojournal will know that I recently wrote about Sarah when she was a presenter at the National Magazine Awards. I have known her since she was 14 and she was featured in my book, How it Feels to Live With a Physical Disability.

Reinertsen has not only excelled in sports as an amputee, she has mentored countless other children and adults who love sports and want to compete. She was recently back in New York City, (returning from a trip to China where she ran the Great Wall), to oversee a Sunday clinic at Asphalt Green teaching amputees how to run.

Later in the week, she co-hosted a benefit for the Challenged Athletes Foundation at the Waldorf-Astoria. The evening's gala honored Martin Franklin, the CEO of Jarden Corporation, who is an avid marathoner and generous donor.

Several challenged athletes were celebrated: Oscar “Blade Runner” Pistorius who is the fastest amputee runner in the world; Col. Greg Gadson, who lost his legs in Iraq in a 2007 IED explosion, and 10-year-old Kaela Cruz whose leg was amputated five years ago following a bout with cancer. An onstage performance by Grammy winner Macy Gray concluded the evening.
Sarah Reinertsen and I had dinner the night before her runners workshop. I learned that she has to watch her weight very carefully. A few extra pounds can make the stump of her leg larger and hence an uncomfortable fit into her prosthesis. She avoids soy sauce for this reason. Sarah with two young men who showed up for
the clinic.
Baseball trading cards aren't just for the MLB! The Challenged Athletes Foundation also has trading cards of their star athletes Sarah Reinertsen, Cody McCasland, Travis Ricks, and Scout Bassett. CAF serves many different groups of disabilities, and offers a special program called "Operation Rebound," which helps injured military veterans get back in the game.
A young man who drove in from Philadelphia puts on his running leg.
Sarah Reinertsen talking with professional triathlete Samantha Wong.
Jolie Sutter talking with Sarah Reinertsen. Jolie had her leg amputated 15 months ago and came to learn more about running. She hopes to get a new running leg soon. Denise Castelli, a collegiate softball player, lost her leg after suffering traumatic injuries on what should have been a routine slide into second base.
Sarah mentoring Kaela.
At only five years old, when other kids were learning to tie their shoelaces, Kaela faced a far more insidious challenge: Osteosarcoma. She beat the cancer, but to save her life, her leg was amputated above the knee. When Kaela was ready, Challenged Athletes Foundation made sure she had a running foot.
Kaela. And her leg.
Kaela has her leg adjusted by her prosthetist Wayne Lawall while fellow challenged athlete 6-year-old Hunter Robertshaw looks on.
Kaela practices running.
Sarah travels all over the world as a motivational speaker. Here she is telling the participants that they can do anything.
Dr. Bob Gailey is a world renowned physical therapist who has helped hundreds of amputees learn how to run. Bob Gailey, along with a team of physical therapists, leads the group through the four basic moves of running. He gets them to kick out their prosthesis, balance on their prosthetic legs and run leg-over-leg. For many participants this is the first time they have ever run since their amputation.
Sarah switching prosthetic legs. The one on the right, designed after a cheetah, is better for running. A closeup of Sarah's running leg.
The running clinic begins.
First-time runners get a helping hand.
Roy Perkins, CAF's Senior Director of Programs & Strategic Planning oversees the running clinic. Sarah with Kaela and her parents, Donna and
Matt Cruz.
Jason Clark had just received his new running feet and removed his walking feet to join in the activity.
On Wednesday evening, June 8th, the Challenged Athletes Foundation held its fifth annual gala at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.
Sarah Reinertsen is one of the people I most admire. Her prosthetic foot was made after taking a mold of a girlfriend's left foot which was similar to Sarah's. If they had made a mold of Sarah's foot she would have ended up with two right feet. A poster of Sarah on display.
Sarah Reinertsen with her husband, Brooke Raasch, who is a graphic designer. They live in Mission Viejo, California. Sarah with my daughter, Lily Vonnegut.
The Össur Flex-Run is a long distance running foot that provides the flexibility and durability to absorb energy and shock for long sustained periods of time. With its emergence, amputee runners could not only finish a long distance event, but also do so with a very respectable time. This foot is also custom made for juniors based on age, weight, and height. It takes nearly three weeks to make one foot.
Sledge Hockey (known as sled hockey in the United States) is a sport that was designed to allow participants who have a physical disability to play the game of ice hockey. Ice sledge hockey was invented in the early 1960s in Stockholm, Sweden at a rehabilitation center. It is currently one of the most popular sports in the Paralympic Games.
Handcycle. Used in lieu of a bike with gears for those with lower extremity limitations. In the last decade we have seen people with spinal cord injury not just finish an Ironman, but race to the finish in fierce competition.
The Össur Cheetah was designed based on the fastest animal in the world and is worn by the world's fastest amputees, including Oscar Pistorius, carrying them to speeds just shy of able-bodied world records. Nearly all world class track & field amputees wear the Össur Cheetah that is custom made for each athlete based on category and limb length.
Kaela Cruz, one of the evening's honorees, with her mother Donna. David Gelfand, age 12, with his father Jonathan Gelfand. David was born with a deformed leg, much like Sarah's, but he has not had the shorter one amputated.
Rudy Garcia-Tolson and Pierre Lucien.

Mr. Garcia-Tolson is 22 years old and was born with a congenital defect causing his legs to be amputated as an infant. He is training in Colorado Springs for the swimming olympics. He won the gold in Athens in 2004 and in Beijing in 2008. "I'm a 200 IM-er," he told me. That means he does 50 of each stroke of which there are four.

Pierre Lucien, 28 years old, was training to be a policeman in Atlanta and lost his legs as a result of severe dehydration. He is now training to be a sprinter.
Scout Bassett and Retired Army Captain, Melissa Stockwell.

Ms. Bassett told me: "I lost my leg in a liquid fire when I was a little baby in China. I was then left outside an orphanage where I lived a sheltered life until I was adopted by an American family. I do triathlon and train at UCLA where I am a student.

I am hoping to go to the Paralympics in London in 2012. I also want to do Ironman."

Ret. Army Captain Stockwell was the first woman injured in combat in Iraq. She lost her leg in a bomb explosion.
Cody McCasland, Kaela Cruz, and Desmond Jackson. Pierre Lucien, George Gallego (Founder and CEO of Wheels of Progress), and David Gelfand.
Proud Father, Matt Cruz, snaps a photo of his daughter Kaela on stage.
Katya Dossous and Larry Scott. Mr. Scott is Chairman of the RC Baker Foundation and is a generous supporter of the Challenged Athletes Foundation. Ms. Dossous is a fashion stylist. Her necklace is
by Lanvin.
Samuel Franklin, 17-year-old son of Martin Franklin, the evening's honoree. Sam is a student at Rye Country Day School and filled a table with his young friends. Alan Shanken with his fiance, Allison Caccoma. Mr. Shanken lost his leg when he was 3. "It was amputated as a result of a birth defect. Right now I'm in training for a two-day 200-mile bike ride in the Bay area. It's in August and is sponsored by CAF."
Oscar Pistorius.
"As a lifelong sports enthusiast, I have witnessed how the power of sport lifts the confidence of any person, able or disabled and helps them lead a more productive and committed life. As an amputee, I know first-hand that the necessary equipment and special prosthetics it takes to compete can sometimes be a greater barrier than the competition itself.

I was raised in Johannesburg by parents who never treated me differently, who made no special accommodations for me, and who pushed me into sport when those around me questioned my ability.

People with disabilities have no excuse to fall victim to what others perceive their disabilities to be. The truth is, we all have our limitations. It is what we do to overcome them that is important.

My late mother, Sheila Pistorius, said it best: 'Never say never. And never give up. Try and try again.'"
Oscar Pistorius has recently been featured in the news because he was barred from competing in the regular olympics. It was thought that his prosthetic legs gave him an advantage over "abled" athletes. 7-year-old Raphaël Alluson with his mothers Hélène Theodore and Valérie Alluson.

 

Oscar Pistorius signs the evening's program for Raphaël.
Martin Franklin was the evening's honoree.

I asked him how much money the evening had raised. He told me over a million dollars.

"Can you say that with certitude" I asked him." "Yes", he replied, "I can say that with certitude."
Amani Toomer, former New York Giants wide receiver, steps to the podium to introduce Col. Greg Gadson.

"In 2008, I was fortunate to be on a Giants team that did the unthinkable--we beat the undefeated Patriots to win the Super Bowl.

But that championship season did not start out so great. We lost our first two games and something was not clicking.

The night before our third game in Washington, our receivers coach Mike Sullivan invited a West Point football teammate who lost his legs to a roadside bomb in Iraq to address the team.

I still remember my teammates respectful silence as Col. Gadson spoke abut the importance of sports to our troops, about the need to play the game for each other, not for ourselves ... that nothing in life is promised, starting with the next day ... that teamwork is everything.

And I remember how we erupted into a standing ovation when he was finished. The next day we played as a team and beat the Redskins. Col. Gadson helped us get our season back on track."
Col. Gregory Gadson
"There are certain universal truths ... whether you are motivating the New York Giants ... or commanding a brigade ... or recovering from a life-changing injury:

You don't give up when the chips are down.

You will succeed only if you put your unconditional trust in the person next to you to do their job.

A unified team with an unwavering belief in the path forward can overcome any obstacle.

These are the lessons that are brave troops embrace everyday. Dedicating your life to service is a decision taken seriously and with great pride. Every man and woman who puts on a uniform does so knowing full well they may not come home.

If they do, it might be with a life-changing disability."
"That moment of impact ... when the whole world changes, is when we begin to truly recongnize the person we are.

That's when the training we receive as soldiers kicks in and helps us do whatever it takes to survive. When doctors and nurses risk their lives so we might live ... going so far as to remove ordinance from out troops in the operating room."
"When we go home to family and friends, we are not the same as before. That's when the oath we made to serve our county takes on a new meaning ... when facing a different life can be more daunting than facing the enemy."
"When I had the opportunity to come back and become part of the Giants winning season, my message was clear:

It's how teamwork can get you through tough times and how the bond between individuals can help overcome any obstacle.

What's important is not the man you are when you are standing tall and winning that matters. It's the man you become when you are down and have to get back up and fight."
"For Ret. Army Captain, Melissa Stockwell, that meant putting on her country's uniform again and becoming a Paralympic swimmer and a world champion paratriathlete." Melissa Stockwell.
Sam Cila.
"For Sam Cila, injured in Iraq, who recently returned from a mountain bike ride with President Bush, it meant coming to terms with the idea that giving up his hand might mean gaining a better life."
"And for Marine Lt. P.J. Glavey, it means having the role models and foundation to realize that anything is possible."
Ret. Army Captain Melissa Stockwell, Sam Sila, and Marine Lt. P.J. Glavey receive a standing ovation.
And now it was time to recognize young Kaela Cruz with a videotape of her days in the hospital while she struggled with cancer.
Bob Babbitt, the editor-in-chief of Competitor Magazine, emceed the evening and introduced Kaela Cruz. Kaela's brother Anton joins her on stage.
Jason Lamoreaux from the Stokes Auction Group conducts a spirited auction.
Melanie Wilson bidding at the auction where attendees could help pay for prosthetics to be donated to challenged athletes. Ms. Wilson works for the Division of Operations for the Urban League of Southern Connecticut. Kristine Etwistle, Event Director of Challenged Athletes Organization.
At the end of the evening, a performance by Macy Gray, two-time Grammy Award winner. Gray has sold more than 15 million albums and is best known for her song "I Try.” In 2010, she released a new album “The Sellout.”
Macy Gray asked everyone to join in on her most popular song "I Try."
Kristin Duquette and Sarah Reinertsen. Ms. Duquette is 20 and has muscular dystrophy. She is a swimmer and describes herself as a "2012 paralympic games hopeful." George Gallego (Founder and CEO of Wheels of Progress), Rudy Garcia-Tolson, Pierre Lucien (both of whom are already featured at top of this journal) and Jim Cuevas, a 20-year-old with spina bifida who competes in track, field, swimming, archery, table tennis and road racing.
Endnote:
As this piece was going to press, Sarah Reinertsen emailed me this message from the state of Oregon:

"I just got back from dinner here in Portland, went for a meal with the team from the Nike sports lab. Nike is developing a new product that I am testing. They are making a special running sole (the working title is the "Sarah Sole") for the prosthetic running foot - so we were analyzing it with high speed cameras, motion control, etc. I have another round of testing tomorrow in the lab ... it's very exciting stuff, but it's still strange to feel like a "lab rat" with 10 engineers and biomechanists staring and studying you all day."


Text and photographs © by Jill Krementz: all rights reserved.