From Our Newsletter - Volume 5, Number 2 - Summer, 1998
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Life Has No Limits for Amy Winters, Triathlon Champion

Amy won the 2005 Ossur National Leg Amputee Championships - Half Marathon in November.
Photo courtesy of Challenged Athletes Foundation

Amy Palmiero Winters of Meadville is what many people would call a natural born athlete. Amy herself says she is lucky it all comes so naturally for her. So when Amy became a below-the-knee amputee at the age of 24, it didn't occur to her that she would not continue her passion for competitive running.

Amy's list of competitions is impressive including First Place finishes in the 2005 Silver Strand Half Marathon (San Diego), and the 2005 ITU JAL Triathlon World Championship. There was also the Third Place finish in the 2005 Ford New York City Triathlon, and a Second Place finish in the 2004 San Diego half marathon – when she was nearly five months pregnant.

"Amy is definitely moving toward the elite athlete class," says her prosthetist, Joe Carter, CPO, owner of Carter Orthopedics, Ltd. "She's a natural born athlete with the right attitude."

Several prestigious competitions are in Amy's sight for 2006, including defending her titles in San Diego, and the Triathlon World Championship in Lausanne (Switzerland). Plus, she is hoping to qualify for the Bejing 2008 Paralympics team, should the Paralympic Triathlon become a scheduled event.

Although Amy ran track in high school – and still holds her high school record for hurdles – she sees her amputation as a source of inspiration to accomplish even more.

"Being an amputee has presented itself as a challenge to me. I have set more goals for myself, that I wouldn't have done if I had both my legs," she said.

She believes everything has a reason for happening and considers everything about her amputation ideal. "Some people won't understand how I can say that, but I'm extremely lucky," she says. "I believe certain things alter your destiny, and it's all in how you let it affect you. If I didn't have my accident, I may not have gotten married and had my kids. My life may have taken a different path, and I might not have been winning races."

Amy became an amputee resulting from complications of a motorcycle accident in 1994, when she was 21 years old. She underwent 25 surgeries to save the foot, but it was amputated in 1997. "I was glad to have it off," she says. "I know the doctors did all they could, but there was a lot of pain."

Amy was initially fit by a practitioner at another facility, but she was never fully comfortable with the prosthesis. The foot felt stiff, she had pressure sores, and the prosthesis was hard to get on and off. And, more importantly to Amy, she wasn't able to run. Through a doctor's recommendation, she visited Joe Carter.

"When I first met her, she was concerned with the fit, and that she couldn't run," said Joe. "I listened to her needs, which were to be able to comfortably work all day as a welder, and wanting to be more active, especially to be able to run."

Following the evaluation, Joe recommended a complete changeover including a new socket, a silicone sleeve suspension, a College Park foot, and a vertical shock pylon.

"After I became a patient of Joe's, he crafted legs that enabled me to run, and that were geared to high activity," Amy says. "When I got my new leg from Joe, I immediately went out and ran."

"She is amazing," Joe says. "I remember watching her at a local race, and she was not only running the race uphill, but pushing both a running stroller with two children, and her godson, who was on a bike."

Amy continued doing local races, but wanted to try something more challenging. "I was looking for involvement at a higher level, but I couldn't find anything. Joe told me about the half marathon in San Diego," she said.

That was her first national competition and she placed second. While in San Diego, she learned of the NYC Triathlon, and took third place among amputees. Following that she went to Kansas City for the nationals to qualify for the Hawaii triathlon. Although that event was rained out, her record from the NYC race held, and she traveled to Hawaii in October 2005 and won, completing a one-mile swim, a 24.8-mile bike ride, and a 6.2-mile run in 2:59:37.

Freedom Innovations 3000
Freedom Innovations 3000

Prior to the Hawaiian Triathlon, Joe upgraded Amy's foot to the Freedom Innovations 3000, for a higher level of performance. When she is in competition, Joe can see Amy up to several times a week for fine-tuning her prosthesis. "When you are running hard for 16 miles, a prosthesis needs a lot more attention," Joe says, adding that Amy is always bursting with enthusiasm. "She's a fun patient to have, because when she comes in for an adjustment, she doesn't just try it out at the parallel bars, she will run out of the building for a mile or so, and then come back with her feedback."

Although Amy runs and bikes daily, she doesn't extensively train for competition. "I guess I'm lucky – it's all very natural to me," she says.

Amy concedes that she needs to increase her time biking and swimming, even though she bikes about 10 miles a day on a bike borrowed from her boss at Leech Carbide Inc., in Meadville, where she has been a welder for nine years. She also will begin working with a swimming coach referred to her by Joe.

"I have a great support group from family and friends to co-workers and my employer," she says. "And Joe's not just my prosthetist, he is my friend. If it weren't for Joe, I wouldn't have gotten so far. I can have all the athletic ability, but if I didn't have the tools I couldn't do it. Joe supplied the tools."

Amy trains with her baby.

Amy also is an advocate of educating people about being an amputee. Joe lectures in the doctoral program in physical therapy at Gannon University in Erie, and the physical therapy assistant programs at the University of Pittsburgh at Titusville and Mercyhurst College in Erie. Amy volunteers to answer questions, shows how the prosthesis comes on and off, and demonstrates her running ability.

"She's inspiring and I'm proud to know her. I consider her one of my best friends," Joe says.

Although running is Amy's passion, she has another reason for pursuing her sport so diligently.

"I want to do this for my kids," she says. "It's not all about me, it's also for them. When they get older, they'll know what I have done, and that they can set goals, and be able to reach them. The only limits they have, are the ones they set for themselves. Life is what you make it."

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