Ultrarunner Jacky Hunt-Broersma ran 104 consecutive marathons in the same number of days. That feat got her into the Guinness Book of World Records, but seeing her name in the record book wasn’t her motivation. Jacky lost her leg to cancer when she was 26 years old, and she wanted to make a difference for other amputees.
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When Jacky was told that she had Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare bone cancer, the diagnosis was delivered as though it were a death sentence. “There was a doctor, there was a nurse, and there was a priest who gave me the diagnosis,” she recalls, “and I’m like, ‘It’s going to be the worst news ever’; yet they’re portraying it as if, ‘Well, actually you’re gonna die now.’ That’s literally what it’s like.”
She wants that perception of having cancer to change. “I just feel there’s this whole stigma of automatically people think you’re gonna die and I think that negativity doesn’t help anyone. I’m not saying it’s all roses and sunshine and it’s all fantastic and stuff; it’s not, but I do feel like it should be portrayed in a different way.”
However, she doesn’t minimize how devastating it is to receive a cancer diagnosis. “It can feel like your entire world is crushing on you, but you need to kind of take it step by step and eventually you kind of get out of that,” she says. “It is okay to feel all those emotions. You have to go through it to make you a better person and I’m at a point now where, I’m sure it sounds really weird, but I’m glad I went through what I did, because it has made me a stronger person. It has made me the person I am today.”
The person that Jacky is today is the first amputee to compete in the TransRockies Mountain Stage Race in Colorado, the first amputee to run 100 miles on a treadmill, and the holder of the world’s record for consecutive marathons by a woman. Yet she wasn’t a runner before she had her leg amputated.
As a matter of fact, she says, “I honestly thought runners were crazy. I’m like, ‘Why on earth would you do that to yourself?’” Then her husband became one of those crazy runners, and she found herself intrigued by the sport when she went to spectate at his races.
When she told others that she was thinking of taking up running though, “Everyone was like, ‘No, don’t. Don’t even bother, because it’s hard, it’s not good for you, and all this. And so I think I’ve always been stubborn, and so it was kind of more of a challenge just to prove people wrong, because I was tired of this imaginary box I was being put in. I was just like, ‘No, I can do everything everyone else is doing, and I can probably do better than my husband does.’”
Her first race was a half marathon, and she’s never looked back. Yet despite all of her accomplishments, she still gets comments when she’s at a race. People will tell her, “It’s so nice to see someone like you doing this,” and, she says, “It’s like, ‘What do you mean with that? Why wouldn’t I be out here and why wouldn’t I be doing this?” She wants to show other amputees that there isn’t any reason why they can’t do whatever they choose to do. “That’s why I put myself out there, because I’m hoping that I can inspire the next generation.”
She also wants to change the way people look at running and food. After she ran her 104 marathons, she would frequently be asked, “How much weight did you lose?” The answer, she’s proud to say, was “none.” “I was determined not to lose weight. If I’m losing weight, that means I did a poor job the day before, fueling myself.” She’s convinced that she recovered so well because she was eating well and keeping a consistent weight. “You have to fuel and it’s okay; you have to eat to run. Running shouldn’t be a punishment, saying, ‘I’ve eaten a chocolate brownie; now I need to go run five miles so I can burn off those calories. You need to eat. You can’t be doing what we do at our level, if you’re not eating properly. Food is not the enemy.”
News of Jacky’s record-breaking accomplishment went around the world. “I was being mentioned as an athlete versus, ‘Oh, this amputee.’ The story had changed, so I felt like I was suddenly getting the respect of an athlete versus, ‘Oh, she’s just an amputee doing…’ It was like that whole concept had changed, and I think that’s why I got a lot of messages from other amputee athletes, saying, ‘Thank you for doing that’, because it did change the perception of what we can do, and ‘Wait a minute, actually, she is a real athlete.’”
For a long time after losing her leg, Jacky wouldn’t look in a mirror because she thought she was ugly. “You see all these pretty girls and everyone has got all their limbs and they all look normal. You have a different perception of what normal looks like and for me, that was someone with all their limbs, and so that was a tough thing to go through.” She has a different relationship with the word now. “I don’t classify anything as normal. Like, what is your perception of normal? For me, I’m who I am, and I guess part of me doesn’t like the word ‘normal’ anymore, because it puts such a negative thing on it. So I’m more an individual; this is me. And so I’m proud of where I’ve come from and what I am now, and how I look and what I can do.”
Jacky went through “a bit of a low” after the marathons were over, but enjoyed the downtime with her family. This year, she’ll probably just do “a few normal 100 mile races.” As she says, “everyone’s normal is totally different.”
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“Thank you” to Jacky! We look forward to hearing your thoughts on the show.