PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — For a long time, people with disabilities were defined by what they couldn’t do — Sarah Reinertsen is choosing to be defined by what she can do.
She’s not just breaking down barriers, she’s blazing a trail for all who come after her.
“Growing up, I knew I was different, right, and I was OK with being different but I was not OK with being told I couldn’t do something,” Reinertsen said. “I was born with a tissue disease that meant that my thigh bone stopped growing, so although I had two legs, my left leg was extremely shorter than my right leg.”
Reinertsen and her family decided to amputate her leg when she was just 7 years old.
“That was a really hard time for me,” she said.
From age 7 to 11, Reinertsen struggled to make peace with her new reality.
“I was the only kid in my entire school that had a physical disability that you could see,” she said. “I had coaches that wouldn’t let me play with the other kids on the main field. They would make me go kick a soccer ball on the side of the wall by myself and so for many years of my childhood I used to believe that narrative. I used to believe that I wasn’t good enough.”
That all changed when she went to one of her dad’s 10k races — like she did most weekends. But this race changed her life.
“There was a woman in the race who was an amputee and she was doing the 10k and I just thought, I had never seen another amputee on one of these road races with my dad and so I just thought ‘wow, if she can run in this six mile race, maybe I could run and do a six mile race,'” Reinertsen said.
She’s been running ever since. She learned the ins and outs of prosthetics and backed by Nike and Ossur Prosthetics, Reinertsen ran in race after race. But that was just the beginning.
“I knew this guy named Jim McClaren who had done an Iron Man on a prosthetic leg and I was like ‘Jim that’s so cool that you did an Iron Man, I want to do an Iron Man just like you’ and he said ‘well I don’t know of a girl on a prosthetic that can do it’ and I was just like ‘are you kidding, you do know a girl because you’re looking at her, I’m going to do the Iron Man,'” Reinertsen said.
She not only did the Iron Man, she qualified for the world championship in Kona, Hawaii. She was one of only 10 in the physically challenged division and the only woman.
“I just believed that I could do it,” she said.
That belief has knocked down barriers all over the world. She’s the only amputee to have completed the World Marathon Challenge of seven marathons on seven continents in seven days.
“It’s sort of like a long race with sort of like naps in between,” she said.
When she’s not taking the athletic world by storm herself, Reinertsen is working with Nike’s Innovation Kitchen, designing sportswear that gives independence to anyone who wants it, regardless of the physical challenges they may face.
“As an athlete, I’ve always been proud of the finish lines that I’ve gotten to but now I really feel like my next purpose in life is to help other people get to the starting line,” she said.