When COVID-19 shut the world down in the spring of 2020, Spartan founder and CEO Joe De Sena instituted a daily 5 a.m. "Warrior Call" featuring Spartan executives and employees, business leaders, doctors and scientists, and inspiring people from all walks of life. The goal was to get and give information, stay informed, and stay motivated during a once-in-a-generation global pandemic.
One of the inspiring people on the call was Amy Palmiero-Winters, whose left leg was amputated below the knee following a horrific motorcycle accident in 1994, when she was 21.
One morning on the call, as De Sena was rattling off some of Winters' jaw-dropping accomplishments — including crawling under barbed wire for 12 hours and doing 3,000 burpees, just to name a couple — she began to feel like a hypocrite. Yes, she had done those things as a below-knee amputee — and much, much, much more — but it was in the past.
What had she done recently? As she asked herself this question, the 49-year-old decided that it was time to get back to doing. Talking about it has an impact, sure, but it doesn't compare to taking action.
Winters, who in 2011 became the first female amputee to finish the 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon, and in 2014 became the first amputee to complete the three-day, 320-mile Ultraman Triathlon, needed a new challenge to tackle.
A day after Winters had this realization, she decided that it was time to best her previous mark of 3,000 burpees. In just five hours, she completed 3,034.
Still hungry for more, the founder of the One Step Ahead Foundation was reminded by one of her daughters that, about a decade prior, she had run 100 miles on a treadmill while training for the 24-Hour Ultramarathon World Championships. She was going to do it again, she decided, and set the Guinness World Record for fastest 100 miles on a treadmill by a below-knee amputee.
She excitedly called De Sena to tell him about her plan, and he promptly invited her to set the record on his farm in Pittsfield, Vermont.
How Joe and Amy First Met
Winters and De Sena first met in 2014, when she attempted the legendarily difficult Death Race. At one point during the race, held on the farm, she became hypothermic in the freezing water. Simultaneously, as she was being pulled out of the water, two marine participants missed a cutoff, and De Sena informed them that they were out of the race. Fuming, they began to argue and actually started to tear up. (When you're 40 to 50 hours into a race, on no sleep, your emotions can get the best of you, no matter how tough or hardened you are.)
As De Sena listened to their protests, he observed Winters, recovering from her hypothermia, calmly remove her prosthetic leg and dump the water out of it.
"Seriously?" Winters remembered De Sena saying. "Look at this chick! And you guys are crying?"
From that point forward, De Sena knew that Winters was different. Her perseverance, passion, and resilience were truly on another level, and he's remained in awe of her ever since.
In the ensuing years, Winters continued to lean into Spartan's extreme endurance events, doing three more Death Races, two Agoges, and iconic mountain bike race La Ruta de los Conquistadores. She took on every challenge, no matter how imposing, with dogged determination.
"She NEVER has an excuse," De Sena said when asked what makes her so extraordinary. "She is eternally grateful for everyone and everything she has."
Breaking the 100-Mile Record
After many logistical challenges, including getting a treadmill up to Pittsfield, the Operations Director of A Step Ahead Prosthetics drove to Vermont from Long Island to break the record on May 31, 2020. The farm, as is usually the case, was a hotbed of activity that day. There were a ton of kids there that weekend, doing workouts, wrestling, and jumping rope. (Later that summer, De Sena would hold the first iteration of Camp Spartan.) As Winters was running, the kids cheered her on, and there was almost always somebody running alongside her, offering support.
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Less than 22 hours later, she had done it. Over the course of 21 hours and 52 minutes (21:52:19, to be exact), she completed 102.93 miles on a prosthetic leg. She had unequivocally crushed 100 miles in under 24 hours. Nobody could take that incredible accomplishment away from her.
There was one small problem, however. The Guinness World Records wouldn't acknowledge it as the official record. If she wanted to be the official world record holder, she would have to do it all over again.
Breaking the 100-Mile Record ... Again
Guinness World Records has extremely strict standardization rules, and for good reason. Records are sacred, and Guinness does its best to ensure that that remains so. All criteria must be met, and there must be a clear path forward for other people to attempt to break it.
Per Guinness, there had to be two treadmills on location, just in case one of them were to break down. (Treadmills don't often run for 24 straight hours, after all. Freemotion generously supplied two for the attempt.) Proper documentation was required and medical records needed to be verified. Additionally, an adjudicator had to be there to confirm the record.
On July 10th, 2021 — and into the 11th — just under 14 months since doing it the first time, Winters broke the 100-mile barrier yet again, and this time it was official. Running at Bespoke Treatments Physical Therapy on Madison Avenue in Manhattan, Winters completed 100 miles in 21:43:29, besting her performance on the farm by nearly 10 minutes.
Though her time was even better the second time around, it was actually much more of a struggle. Admittedly not in the best frame of mind ahead of the second attempt, she didn't prepare as she normally would and actually suffered horrible cramps about five hours in, ending up on the floor and writhing in pain. She credits her team with saving her, and propelling her to the finish line while she was at her lowest point. Her team members fled to the store to purchase food and fluids, and she's eternally grateful for Pedialyte, a rehydration drink, for keeping her hydrated. Despite the setback, she still managed to come in at under 22 hours.
What's Next? (Hint: A LOT)
Though Winters is extremely proud of what she was able to achieve on her treadmill, she knows that the cramping cost her precious time, and now she's out to prove that she can rip through 100 miles even faster.
That's right: She's going to do it again.
"I lost who I was," she said reflectively, thinking back on the attempt in New York. "I let my life outside of my running kind of get the best of me, and it just derailed me. Do I have to go back and do this again? Yeah, unfortunately I do."
That's not all she's preparing to do. Winters, who is currently recovering from a broken hand, also has plans to establish the world record for burpees in 24 hours by someone wearing a prosthetic.
"One-hundred miles on the treadmill is life," Winters said. "It’s just life. You are going to have highs, you are going to have lows, you’re going to want to run as fast as you can, you’re going to want to stop. That’s what life is. How you feel in the moment, it will pass. But the feeling of quitting and not being your best at that moment will never go away."