Reinertsen, BA ’98, was
a little girl, her family had a choice to
make. They could let her go on living with
proximal femoral focal deficiency, a birth
defect that would eventually render her left
leg half the length of her right, or doctors
could amputate Reinertsen’s leg above
the knee and fit her with a prosthetic limb.
Keeping her own leg would mean she’d
need to wear braces to help her walk easier,
though she’d never be able to keep up
with other kids in the neighborhood. Prosthetics
of the 1980s weren’t what they are today.
They were wooden and heavy with rubber feet
at the ends—and playing tag in one would
be a chore. But the technology was developing
every day and the future of prosthetics was
looking good. So, at age 7, Reinertsen lay
on an operating table awaiting amputation.
The family made the right decision. Not only
can Reinertsen walk, she runs—a lot.
In fact, she has finished seven marathons (her
first as a senior at GW), and though she didn’t
ride a bike until she was 28, she’s an
expert now, having completed 20 triathlons—her
first just one month after removing her training
wheels. In October, at 30 years old, she’ll
face the Superbowl of triathlons: The Hawaii
Ironman World Championship.
Think a race in Hawaii is all leis and luaus?
Competitors in the Ironman start with a 2.4-mile
swim in the Pacific, followed by 112-mile bike
ride. When they’re through—assuming
they’ve come in before the cutoff time—they
run a marathon, that’s 26.2 miles. And
the weather doesn’t always cooperate. “You’re
going to get wind,” Reinertsen says. “It’s
going to get hot. You just don’t know
how windy or how hot.” As long as the
runners cross the finish line 17 hours after
the 7 a.m. shotgun start, they can consider
Like competitors with two legs, Reinertsen
needs to focus on her speed and form. But she’s
also got other things to worry about. She needs
to make sure someone is standing at the water’s
edge ready to pass on her crutches, so she
can make it to her bike, put on her specialized
biking prosthetic, and begin pedaling. Then
she’s got to switch legs again before
the marathon. And not only does Reinertsen
have to deal with the typical post-race problems
of muscle fatigue, dehydration, and blisters,
she has more to deal with: After running the
Boston Marathon, the end of her leg was so
sore she couldn’t wear her prosthetic
for two weeks.
This is Reinertsen’s second shot at the
championship. Last year, she came out of the
cycling portion of the race just 14 minutes
past the cutoff time to continue on to the
run. Even though she spent the last 30 miles
of her bike ride vomiting due to dehydration—and
even though she would no longer be considered
a competitor—Reinertsen wanted to finish
the race, but the medical team put a stop to
that. Her failure to finish was heart wrenching.
She reflected on all of the things she passed
up over the last year just to train—friends’ weddings,
movies, nights out on the town—and then
she headed back to the mainland and began training
all over again.
Reinertsen now lives and trains in California
and works as a marketing manager for Ossür,
a company that specializes in prostheses for
amputees, but her resume has varied. When she
was only 13, she broke the World Record for
female above-the-knee amputees in the 100-meter
dash (she still holds that record today). Later,
she competed in the 1992 Paralympic Games in
Barcelona as the youngest member of the U.S.
Disabled Track Team. After the games, she chose
to spend her undergrad years at GW because
she wanted to live near a city, and, better
yet, she liked what she saw in the University’s
international affairs programs—she even
spent a year studying in Madrid.
That traveling bug fits a runner like Reinertsen
who has competed in races in London, New Zealand,
and New York. She’s sure she’s
going to finish the Ironman, and when she does,
she’ll become the first female, above-the-knee
amputee to complete the Hawaii Ironman. Though
she thinks she can cross the finish line in
just over 16 hours, Reinertsen’s real
goal is to cross that finish line, period. “I
just want to finish under 17 hours.” If
that means she comes in at 16:59:59, so be
it. She can always work on her speed for the
2006 World Championships.