BOSTON (AP) — Jacky Hunt-Broersma runs like a possessed woman. And in a way, she is: the amputee athlete is trying to run at least 102 marathons in 102 days.
Last month, just over two-thirds away from her goal of setting a new world record for consecutive marathons, the South African native posted something on Twitter that got people talking.
“The first thing I did after my run today was take my leg off. Felt so good,” she tweeted. “Marathon 69 done. 31 marathons to go.”
That was last month, and she’s still running – covering the classic marathon distance of 26.2 miles (42.2 kilometers) day after day, rain or shine, occasionally on a treadmill, but especially on roads and trails near her home in Gilbert, Ariz.. If his streak stays intact before the Boston Marathon on April 18, it will be Marathon No. 92.
Unlike the other 30,000 running the staged course, Hunt-Broersma, 46, will have done a marathon the day before. One way or another, she will have to rally heart and soul to run another one the next day. And another after. And then eight more.
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All on a carbon fiber blade that’s been her left leg since she lost the real thing below the knee to a rare cancer.
“You make peace with the pain,” she said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I think my pain threshold is probably pretty high right now. It’s one step at a time.”
Boston is the only certified marathon she includes in her quest. The others she runs on one of two loops near her home or indoors on a treadmill – a monotonous machine that many runners derisively call the “treadmill.”
In 2001, while she and her Dutch husband were living in the Netherlands, Hunt-Broersma was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare cancer more commonly seen in children. Overnight, a bulge the size of a golf ball appeared on an old scar that had become tender. A biopsy confirmed the worst, and within weeks his leg was amputated below the knee.
“The biggest challenge was accepting that part of my body was missing,” she said. (She’s since made peace with it: her favorite t-shirt reads “A zombie chewed it up.”)
Until five years ago, she was not athletic at all, but getting started was expensive. Carbon fiber blades designed to work cost around $10,000 and are not covered by health insurance. Survivors of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, which killed three spectators and injured 260 others, faced the same problem as they sought to turn their lives around.
“Running has really changed my life,” she said. “It helped me accept myself as an amputee. It gave me a sense of freedom. I fell in love with the process of pushing my body further just to see what I could do.”
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Subsequent marathons led to ultra running over long distances, including a 100-mile (160 kilometer) race. So when Hunt-Broersma learned that Alyssa Amos Clark, a non-disabled runner from Bennington, Vermont, had completed the marathon distance 95 days in a row in 2020, an idea was born: she would do 100. This plan was thwarted this week when British runner Kate Jayden completed 101 marathons in as many days, so Hunt-Broersma set herself a new goal: “Now I’m going for at least 102.”
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“I hoped it would inspire a lot of people to step out of their comfort zone and push a little further,” she said.
She was worried that her stump would become raw and painful, and the first two weeks were difficult. Since then, however, she’s gotten into an enduring rhythm, taking care to ice and massage the stump. When it became swollen, she switched to a running prosthesis with a little more room.
But there were also mental challenges on the road to 102, which began on January 17. On a recent outing, Hunt-Broersma – who averaged just over five hours per marathon – felt close to collapse at 15 miles (24 kilometers). ) and burst into tears. Suddenly, the whole odyssey was in doubt.
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“I had a total emotional breakdown. I was like, ‘I just can’t do this. What was I thinking?'” she said. “The trick for me is just to break it down into small goals. Just hit the next mile. And then the next.”
Her support team consists of her husband and their two young children, but she has also gained a large following on social media.
This week, after recording Marathon #85, well-wishers offered virtual applause. “You just seem to be eating marathons for breakfast,” one person tweeted. “In these dark times, thank you for serving as an inspiration,” another commented.
As she nears the end of her epic quest, Hunt-Broersma hopes she will inspire a singular thought in others, regardless of their own physical challenges:
“You are stronger than you think – and you are capable of so much more.”