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When ultrarunner Jacky Hunt-Broersma lines up at the Boston Marathon on April 18, she will be part of the marathon’s new competitive Para Athletics Divisions for runners who have limb or vision impairments. She is a lower-limb amputee. And when she runs this marathon, it will be her 92nd in a row.
Hunt-Broersma is in the middle of a running streak—100 marathons in 100 days, aiming to break the world record for the most consecutive marathons run by a woman (which stands at 95 marathons in 95 days).
This means Hunt-Broersma’s preparation for Boston looks nothing like that of most runners: She isn’t doing speed work or tapering, because she needs to run a marathon every day leading up to the race. The only adjustment she’ll make to her daily routine is that she plans to run her 91st marathon, the day before Boston, earlier in the day than usual, so she has more
time to recover.
In some ways, not being able to prepare for the race the way she usually would frees her up to enjoy the experience more than she might if she were focused on her time or her strategy. “I’m going to have some fun with it,” she says. “I can actually enjoy just being there and enjoy the crowd, because the crowd in Boston is phenomenal.”
“I’m excited because they have the new para division,” Hunt-Broersma says. “It’s kind of an honor to be there for that and to see what everyone else is doing.” She is running in the T64 division for below-the-knee amputees; she had her lower left leg amputated due to cancer in 2001. She ran the virtual Boston Marathon in 2020.
This will be the only the second time the Boston Marathon has had Para Athletics Divisions for ambulatory athletes, with their own prize money and start time. Although wheelchair racers have their own divisions in some marathons, no other World Major has separate divisions for ambulatory para athletes.
“It’s brilliant,” Hunt-Broersma says. “It gives so much opportunity to other amputees, and I think it’s going to just open it up a little bit more.”
“We’re very excited to have Jacky as part of our accomplished Para Athletics Division for the 126th Boston Marathon,” says Mary Kate Shea, director of professional athletes and technical support for the Boston Athletic Association. “Jacky continuously pushes the boundaries of what’s possible, completing 100 miles on a treadmill and now 100 marathons in 100 days. She’ll line up among a star-studded para field including Paralympians and global medalists, and we wish her the best of luck on race day.”
At other marathons, the world-class para athlete runners are mixed in with the main crowd. So even when they are the fastest in the world in their respective categories, they often go unnoticed and unrecognized as the elite athletes they are. Hunt-Broersma says she hopes Boston’s para divisions will raise their visibility.
“It kind of feels like we’re screaming, ‘Hey, here we are, look what we can do!’” she says. “Being at this elite level, we do amazing things.” However, she says, “even brands don’t always notice adaptive athletes. I hope it will open up more opportunities so they can see, ‘Oh, they can actually do this.’”
Last fall, the Boston Marathon highlighted the new Para Athletics Divisions, but the national TV coverage didn’t show or talk about the para athletes’ race. “A lot of us were kind of disappointed,” Hunt-Broersma says. “Liz [Willis], who won last year, she’s a good friend of mine. And there was nothing. She won it, and it was hardly highlighted. No one knew about it. And it
kind of felt like they missed the opportunity.” She adds, “Hopefully, it will get to a point where they cover it as well as they do with the wheelchair [racers].”
Becoming a Runner
Hunt-Broersma is more of an ultrarunner than a marathoner, although she has a few road marathons and many half marathons under her belt. She doesn’t encounter many other amputees racing ultras.
“The first thing I was told by various physicians, they kind of scare you a little bit. They were like, ‘Oh, no, that’s a little bit far. Amputees shouldn’t be running that far,’” Hunt-Broersma says. So amputee runners may not realize they can run long distances, she says. “I’m hoping with what I’m doing, and being so open out there and on social media, that people will say, ‘I can give it a try.’”
Hunt-Broersma didn’t become a runner until 2016, 15 years after she became an amputee.
Before that, she wasn’t really interested in running. “I guess I’m a little bit stubborn. When people say I can’t be doing something, I want to give it a try,” she says. Plus, her husband is a runner, so she thought it would be something fun they could do together.
She figured she’d probably do some 5Ks. “As I got into it, I kind of got a bit addicted and started pushing boundaries a little bit further and a little bit further,” she says.
If Hunt-Broersma achieves the world record, it won’t be her first. She also set a world record for the first amputee to run 100 miles on a treadmill, which she accomplished in under 24 hours. She was also the first amputee to compete in the TransRockies stage race.
A Daily Marathon on a Prosthetic Leg
Hunt-Broersma didn’t know what to expect when running a marathon every single day.
“Mentally, it’s a lot harder than I was expecting. Physically, I’m kind of surprised, because I was expecting I was going to have more issues with my stump,” she says. Her stump can get irritated by the prosthesis and start to swell, but she rotates two running blades with different sockets to vary the pressure points on her stump.
She also had to adjust her nutrition. “I noticed the wheels coming off a little bit,” she says. “It’s a little bit tricky getting enough calories to fuel your run but then also to help you recover.”
Her husband and kids sometimes join her during her daily marathons, but she often runs alone. As she gets closer to 100 marathons, she plans to invite more people to join her to run as a group.
As part of her 100-marathon effort, Hunt-Broersma is supporting the organization Amputee Blade Runners, which provides running blades for amputees. “Running was such an important part of accepting who I was, with body image and all that,” she says. “And, especially here in the states, running blades are really, really expensive, and insurance doesn’t always cover it.”
People’s perceptions of amputees seem to have improved since Hunt-Broersma first became an amputee, she says. “The first reaction was, ‘Well, that’s it, you’re not gonna be able to do much.’ You get branded as disabled,” she says. “I’m hoping with what I do, people will go, ‘Oh my goodness, they can do hard things, and they can have a normal life.’”
On the other end of the spectrum, however, people at races have asked Hunt-Broersma if her running blade gives her an advantage. “They’ll say, ‘You shouldn’t be racing with that, because it looks really fast.’ It’s that whole perception,” she says. “No, it’s not really fast. It just gives me the opportunity to compete in this race.”
Hunt-Broersma has been posting about her marathons on social media, and “the response has been absolutely amazing,” she says. People will tell her they didn’t want to go out and run, but then her posts motivated them to get out there.
The first time Hunt-Broersma lined up at an ultra was “so scary,” because she didn’t know if she could do it. But she did, and then she kept trying something else that was new to her and accomplishing that, too.
“The biggest thing that I always tell everyone is that you’re capable of a lot more than what you think,” she says.
Editor’s note: Kate Jayden, a British runner, surpassed Hunt-Broersma’s initial goal by running 101 marathons in 101 days on Sunday April 10 at the Brighton Marathon. Hunt-Broersma now plans to run 102 “or even maybe a little further.” The previous record was 95 marathons in 95 days.