Travel

“It’s given me a purpose”: Meet the first female double-amputee hoping to conquer the Boston marathon

Posted by
Sarah Biddlecombe
Published

A woman is hoping to "pay it forward" to survivors of the 2013 Boston bombing by becoming the first female double amputee to complete the Boston marathon next Monday.

Jami Goldman Marseilles, a 47-year-old teacher from California, is already the only female in the world with double below-the-knee amputations to have finished a full marathon. The athlete and author completed the Chicago marathon last October in order to qualify for the Boston marathon, and now hopes to smash yet another world record next week.

"Everyone asks, 'What's your time going to be in Boston? What are you going to do?'" Marseilles told Today.

"I have a pretty simple answer: I'm going to finish. I'm just so honored to be a part of history and to share my journey by participating in the marathon."

Jami

Marseilles lost both her legs at the age of 19 after being trapped in a snow storm for 11 days. She was on her way back to Arizona from a ski trip with a friend when their car hit a snow bank and became stuck in ice.

The pair lived in the car for the next 11 days and, over this time, Marseilles developed frost bite in her feet, hands, nose and ears. While her hands, nose and ears recovered, she contracted gangrene in her legs, which tragically had to be amputated.

Before the accident, Marseilles was "never athletic", but on medical advice she began going to the gym to strengthen her body.

And 10 years after she became lost in the snow storm she began running, having being inspired by the 1996 Paralympics in Atlanta Georgia.

"I had seen video of athletes - people like me, amputees - running and I thought, 'Oh my gosh, how are they balancing? How are they not falling down?' What an incredible way to live your life," she said.

Jami and friends at the Chicago marathon

Jami and friends at the Chicago marathon

Since then, Marseilles has run five half-marathons as well as the Chicago marathon, which she describes as "tough".

"When I'm out on a run, I'm constantly adjusting my legs. I might be running at a really good pace, but it's going to take me a little bit longer because I do stop. Whether a limb is swelling or a prosthetic sock is rubbing, or things just don't feel right and I have chaffing - I really listen to my body. I don't want to risk injury; I don't want to get blisters.

"That's something that I mentally had to force myself to do because when you're out training, you just want to run as fast you can and challenge yourself."

As a double amputee, Marseilles says she has formed a "strong" relationship with some survivors of the terrorist attack that killed three people and injured 264 others at the Boston marathon on 15 April 2013. She now hopes to complete this year's marathon as a tribute to them. 

"They're still trying to figure out their lives and their future. Tragedy is going to strike everybody; it's just a matter of when," she said. "If I can provide people with inspiration and motivation, I feel like it's given me a purpose of why I was saved on that mountain.

"You've got to find that passion and that drive from within to want to do something that's challenging. I believe it creates a strong character, especially when you can defy odds."

A post shared by Jami Marseilles (@iamjamim) on

She also hopes her personal story will provide inspiration to others. "The ironic twist of being a girl with God-given legs, then losing them and becoming a runner is really powerful," she said. 

"I think the message shows people out there that you can overcome anything that life's journey throws at you."

jami

Jami Goldman Marseilles' advice for recent amputees who want to take up running

  • Start by going for a walk around the block
  • Embrace a healthy lifestyle and move your body at a little quicker pace
  • Seek out others who have done this and ask questions - it's a beautiful community

Images: Allan Helmick Photography / Jami Goldman Marseilles Instagram and website