Cal­i­for­nian set for Iron­man

Woman sets fundrais­ing, 15-hour tar­get

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS - Martin Rogers

MIS­SION VIEJO, Calif. – The Iron­man World Cham­pi­onship is a cruel, un­com­pro­mis­ing and un­yield­ing ex­am­i­na­tion of body and mind.

Don’t even ask about any con­ces­sions, how­ever young, old, in­jured or bone-weary you are. Or, in the case of Sarah Rein­ert­sen, you’re try­ing to com­plete the whole darned, mis­er­able thing, all 140 miles of it, as an am­putee with a pros­thetic leg.

Rein­ert­sen will join 2,500 com­peti­tors from more than 60 coun­tries this week­end as they plunge into Kailua Bay, off the west coast of Hawaii’s Big Is­land. They’ll splash out en masse for a 2.4mile lung-bust­ing swim, pedal their way up Queen Ka’ahu­manu High­way and be­yond for 112 miles, then churn through a 26.2-mile run.

“Most golfers don’t get to play with Tiger Woods,” she told USA TO­DAY. “In Iron­man, whether you are a pro­fes­sional, or an age grouper, or who­ever, you are all in the same world cham­pi­onship. The caveat is that the rules don’t get changed, who­ever you are.”

That’s not a com­plaint, be­cause Rein­ert­sen, 43, doesn’t do those. She loves the equal­ity of the race even though she has no kick power to aid her swim­ming, can’t raise her­self in the sad­dle to gen­er­ate ex­tra force on the bike, and has to chug through that marathon dis­tance on one leg that’s made of car­bon fiber.

But equal­ity is all she ever wanted, ever since be­ing born with prox­i­mal femoral fo­cal de­fi­ciency, a rare bone­growth disorder, that led to her left leg be­ing amputated above the knee when she was 7.

“I want peo­ple to see me in the Iron­man, and in­stead of feel­ing sorry I want them to feel em­pow­ered,” she said. “A lot of so­cial change comes through sport, think of Jackie Robin­son. In some ways I want that same cul­tural change to hap­pen with peo­ple with dis­abil­ity.”

That men­tal­ity is how she be­came the first woman am­putee on a pros­thetic to fin­ish in Kona in 2005 and why, in con­junc­tion with the event’s 40th an­niver­sary, she’s back. This time, she is set­ting a loftier goal. She’s aim­ing to raise $40,000 for the Chal­lenged Ath­letes Foun­da­tion, but there’s even more to it than that.

The idea came about, like so many other good and du­bi­ous ones, over drinks in a tiki bar, soon af­ter hav­ing com­pleted the World Marathon Chal­lenge, which saw her run seven half­marathons in seven days on seven con­ti­nents.

“The dis­abled are a group of the pop­u­la­tion that any­one can join at any time,” Rein­ert­sen said. “It is won­der­ful to live in mod­ern times but it also means we are sur­viv­ing more car ac­ci­dents, acts of war, mil­i­tary in­ci­dents. I tell my friends they are tem­po­rar­ily able-bod­ied. (Un­for­tu­nately), peo­ple can join my club at any time.”

Rein­ert­sen says she never feels more alive than when per­form­ing, which is why she was knock­ing out laps at a pool near her Orange County home one morn­ing last month, hav­ing com­pleted a day-long bike session the day be­fore. Run­ning would come in the af­ter­noon, with a meet­ing with Mor­gan Pix­ley, a 5year-old born with the same con­di­tion. En­gag­ing with Mor­gan re­minded Rein­ert­sen of her own child­hood.

At 7, a soc­cer coach for­bade her from join­ing in with the rest of a coach­ing group, in­stead in­struct­ing her to per­form the mind-numb­ing task of boot­ing the ball against a wall, over and over. She was ex­cluded from other sports. Back then, be­ing dif­fer­ent was about as much fun as it sounds, and she chan­neled it into phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity.

“I often got made fun of,” she said. “Kids would say mean things to me and pick on me, some­times my leg would squeak or make noise and they would make fun of that. I also han­dled that in a very phys­i­cal way; I would go work out and I would sweat it out.

“I couldn’t do any­thing to change my body. But in work­ing out it taught me to love my body and not re­sent it.”

Rein­ert­sen’s has ben­e­fited from the lat­est tech­nol­ogy in rac­ing pros­thet­ics and is spon­sored by Ös­sur, which makes the rac­ing foot, cy­cling leg and hy­draulic “chee­tah” knee that al­lows her to com­pete.

For non-spon­sored hope­fuls seek­ing to im­prove their way of life, a full rac­ing kit can cost be­tween $35,000 and $40,000. “A lit­tle daunt­ing if you are just look­ing to get out of the door for your first 10k,” she said.

Rein­ert­sen’s train­ing is a full-time job, 40-plus hours of phys­i­cal toil per week. And that comes on top of her ac­tual job, work­ing with Nike’s pros­thetic “In­no­va­tion Kitchen,” mean­ing she must spend time in Ore­gon apart from hus­band Brooke Raasch.

The gru­el­ing sched­ule leaves her about enough time to re­hy­drate, re­fuel and shower each evening, be­fore col­laps­ing into bed and do­ing it all over again. Yet while she has lived with her dis­abil­ity all of her life, and how­ever much her achieve­ments have out­stripped those of so many able-bod­ied peo­ple, there are con­stant re­minders that even ba­sic tasks are tougher for her than for oth­ers.

“I have this amaz­ing car­bon-fiber ath­letic equip­ment, but at night, when I take it off, I have to crawl to get to the bath­room,” Rein­ert­sen added. “That’s some­thing an­other triath­lete doesn’t have to deal with.”

Re­gard­less, she pushes on. She has en­ergy and op­ti­mism and the kind of spirit that makes you hopes she wins. The good news is, she’ll be do­ing that what­ever hap­pens in Hawaii, even if she falls short of her 15-hour tar­get.

That’s right, 15 hours of non-stop ex­er­tion, with a pre­dicted fin­ish late into the evening. Think of that for a mo­ment.

When it is over there might be no one more de­serv­ing of a rest. But that wouldn’t be Rein­ert­sen’s way. In­stead, she will be hop­ping on a red-eye flight to the North­west, then head­ing straight to the of­fice for a full shift.

The work, and the work­outs, never stop. But why?

“To show oth­ers what it pos­si­ble,” she said. “Or to re­mind my­self that I’m un­beat­able.”


Sarah Rein­ert­sen talks to Mor­gan Pix­ley, 5. Both were born with prox­i­mal femoral fo­cal de­fi­ciency and had am­pu­ta­tions.

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