First Female Amputee Runs 140 Miles in Grueling Race Through the Sahara Desert

Amy Palmiero-Winters just became the first female amputee to run one of the most challenging races in the world.

Palmiero-Winters, 46, completed the Marathon des Sables earlier this month. The ultramarathon, held in the Sahara Desert in southern Morocco each year, is 140 miles and six days long — over five times longer than the length of a regular marathon and subject to extreme hot weather conditions.

According to the New York Times, Palmiero-Winters’ lower left leg was amputated below the knee in 1997, after she was involved in a motorcycle accident.

The athlete and mother of two told the newspaper that she wanted to complete the grueling race in order to inspire her children.

“When it’s your last day, you want to come in skidding sideways, your body worn out,” she told the Times. 

Palmiero-Winters hails from Hicksville, New York and had already made a name for herself in other races before embarking on the Marathon des Sables.

In 2006, she set a record marathon time for below-the-knee amputees when she ran the Chicago Marathon in three hours and four minutes. Then, in 2011, she became the first female amputee to finish the Badwater Ultramarathon held in California’s Death Valley.

“Sports gave me self-confidence,” Palmiero-Winters told the Times about why she began running. “When something bad happened to me, I went out for a run. It kept me from any darkness.”

Even with all her previous experience, the Marathon des Sables presented a whole new set of challenges. Her 13-year-old daughter even gave her a note before the race that read: “Good luck. I love you. Don’t die.”

Palmiero-Winters’ trek through the Sahara Desert earlier this month involved running with a 19-pound backpack full of supplies through sand dunes and salt flats each day, and camping out in a sleeping bag each night.

The athlete told the Times that she planned on listening to Eminem throughout the entire race.

“Nobody believed in him; he paved his own path,” Palmiero-Winters said. “Same with me.”

Palmiero-Winters endured her fair share of difficulties throughout the six days. She had an allergic reaction during the first day of the race, felt her skin peel off inside the liner of her prosthesis on day three — and even took a fall just a half-mile before the finish line.

After crossing the finish line, Palmiero-Winters told the Times about the fall: “When I fall, I laugh, I cry, I get back up and I keep going.”

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