Running on Full

What started as a fun ski trip for Jami Goldman Marseilles and her girlfriend in December 1987 nearly ended in tragedy.

The teens found themselves stranded in their snowbound car on a remote Arizona road for 11 days, resulting in such severe frostbite that Marseilles ended up having both legs amputated below the knee.

That hasn’t stopped her from pursuing an active life, and on Oct. 11 she realized her dream of becoming the first woman double amputee to run the Chicago Marathon, completing the 26.2 miles in 6 hours, 27 minutes. That’s good enough to qualify for the 2016 Boston Marathon, where she’ll run to honor those affected by the 2013 tragedy in Boston.

After earning a B.S. in communication from Arizona State in 1992 and then a B.A. in child development from CSULB in 1996, she began working on her master’s at Long Beach. Her life took yet another turn when her prosthetist showed her a video of the 1996 Paralympic Games in Atlanta.

“I was just enthralled. I could not believe that amputees like myself were running. That’s what really started the ball rolling. I watched that video and thought, ‘What an amazing opportunity to learn to run,’” she recalled.

“Growing up, I had real legs and I was guilty of not exercising and not running with them.”

She became so dedicated to the sport that she competed with the USA Paralympic Team and almost qualified for the 2000 Paralympic Games in Sydney, Australia. Moreover, she became an advocate for persons with physical disabilities and has worked with a variety of organizations including the Challenged Athletes Foundation that helps disabled athletes worldwide take part in training and competitions.

A 1999 Adidas TV commercial shows her from the waist up, with just the sound of her feet running on a track, then pulls back to reveal her prosthetic legs. For her accomplishments, the College of Health and Human Services named her a 2001 Distinguished Alumna.

Nowadays, being a kindergarten teacher at Eisenhower Elementary School in Garden Grove keeps her running in a different way. She and her husband, Beau, have two children, and the family supports her tough training regimen.

Increasingly sophisticated prosthetics help Marseilles and others go about their daily lives. She has three different pairs from the firm Össur, which also made her first running legs, the Cheetah Xtreme.

“I’m an ambassador for them, first and foremost because I believe in the product. I’m a kindergarten teacher, so sometimes I wear my prosthetics 17 or 18 hours a day. On a good day maybe I’ll wear them 15 hours and get to take them off a little bit. Because of the quality of the manufacturing, it lets me live my life without any limitations.”

Her everyday legs are designed for high activity and can be worn with a variety of flat shoes, while her Flex-Run legs look like a C-shaped blade and come with a special Nike sole. “That’s what I ran the marathon in and what I use when I run on the weekends and for training,” she explained. In addition to workouts at UltraFit Bootcamp in Huntington Beach, she is often found along the shoreline trail or in the hills of Aliso Viejo with her running friends.

On April 18, the people of Boston will see what tenacity means.

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