'If I Can't Run Fast, I'll Run Far'

By Meredy Fullen

I would never in a million years have thought I would be a runner, much less running marathons, ultra marathons, and the famous Boston Marathon!"

Kelly Luckett stands on Patriot's Day emblem.
Kelly Luckett stands on Patriot's Day emblem.

Perhaps only a runner who puts in miles upon miles can grasp the magnitude of this opening remark by Kelly Luckett. Perhaps anyone can think back and remember the requirement in physical education class of having to run just one mile to have an appreciation for this statement.

When life placed hurdles in front of Kelly Luckett, she learned to run around them. Luckett, 38, a transtibial amputee from Atlanta, Georgia, began running two years ago after several years of sitting on the sidelines while her husband competed in the annual 10K Peachtree Road Race in her hometown. A Symes amputee since age two, Luckett had the desire to participate in the run, but had experienced lim­ited mobility all of her life due to soreness and pain in her residual limb.

Luckett never imagined she'd one day run alongside her husband in the 10K, let alone become only the third female amputee in the 109-year history of the Boston Marathon to run that race. But she did just that in April, 2005, finishing the world-famous mara­thon with a time of 6:27:02.

Defining the Drive

When asked if running fulfills an empty space she has felt within her life, Luckett said, "I had always wanted to run but never thought I could, since every time I tried I was in pain and out of breath! Now that I can run, thanks to the right prosthetics and excellent training advice, I realize it would have always been something missing in my life if I hadn't started."

Lucket said when she runs she loves the feeling of being active and being outdoors. She enjoys the planning and strategy that goes into a long run. "I have to plan what to eat and when, how to pace myself, how to deal with bad weather or other adverse running conditions, etc."

Besides health and fitness benefits, as well as sheer enjoyment, Luckett said she has gained an incredible amount of confidence and self-esteem through running. "I am amazed that if I push myself even just a little beyond what I think I'm capable of, I can accomplish things I once thought were impossible, and this has carried over into other areas of my life."

Advice for Runners

Her advice to anyone who has physical limitations and wants to run is to talk to his/her doctor or prosthetist about what components are available to allow running without pain and with the smoothest gait possible. "I am very fortunate that the prosthetist I had while living in Minneapolis, Al Ingersoll, CPO, at Winkley Prosthetics, fitted me with the components I have. The liner is the key to being able to run long distances without pain or any skin problems. I also highly recommend using the Jeff Galloway run/walk training method which can be found at www.runinjuryfree.com." Luckett said this plan incorporates planned walk breaks from the beginning of a run in order to avoid injury and to increase endurance. Depending on the person's limitations, he or she may want to mainly begin walking at first with a minute or two of running for every few minutes of walking. The idea is to start out very slowly, not to overdo it, and gradually increase in distance and pace.

Kelly attributes much of her running success to advances in prosthetics and especially to the Otto Bock HealthCare Custom Urethane Liner, which she says has changed her life. Her liner, along with her Lo Rider foot, made of lightweight and responsive carbon fiber, has allowed her to go places--and distances--she never dreamed possible. In fact, Luckett competed in her first ultra marathon in February, 2005, completing the 50K Silver Comet Ultra Run in Rockmart, Georgia, in 8:10:44. Luckett said after being fit with the liner, for the first time in her adult life she was able to be as active as she wanted without pain.

Hitting the Wall

Luckett admits that hitting the wall has happened to her. When this does happen, she has focused on just putting one foot in front of the other until she is feeling better and can make an effort to pick up the pace and run. She said, "Fortunately I have learned to virtually eliminate most of these problems by using planned walk breaks from the beginning of my runs, by training for the entire distance of a race, and by learning what foods to eat before and during a run. It has been by trial and error, as well as advice from those who know better than I do, as to how much to eat and when. For me, the key has been to keep up my blood sugar level (BSL) by eating the right things before it plummets! I have also had great success by having a slightly flat Coke at about mile 20. Caffeine and sugar are wonderful things to keep you running when you hit the wall!"

Going Places

Kelly Luckett (right) and fellow Boston Marathon finisher Judy Alvarez.
Kelly Luckett (right) and fellow Boston Marathon finisher Judy Alvarez.

Running takes people places, both literally and figuratively. Be­-sides the Boston Marathon and the Peachtree Road Race, Luckett also recently completed the Kentucky Derby Festival Half Marathon in Louisville, Kentucky, the Flying Pig Half Marathon in Cincinnati, Ohio, the Army Hooah 10K that ended at Fort McPherson, Georgia, as well as the eight-hour GUTS race in Atlanta in August. She also participated in the Baltimore Marathon on October 15 and ran the Atlanta Half Marathon on Thanksgiving Day. Luckett plans to participate in the Boston Marathon in April and be the first female amputee in history to run the race two years in a row.

With this race schedule, it is obvious that Luckett is a very busy person. Besides the long runs, she also works full time as a manager at LeasePlan USA, with an hour commute each way, and finds time to spend with her two dogs.

"I would like to continue to do more marathons and ultras, but the next step is to train for a 50-mile ultra marathon within the next year or two, depending on how my training goes," Luckett said. "Ultimately I would love to complete at least a 100K if not a 100-mile ultra, but that is a few years down the road, if all goes well. I really want to see just how far my endurance will take me, since my motto is: If I can't run fast, I'll run far!'"

Luckett's favorite race so far has been the Boston Marathon. Not only was she the third female amputee in history to complete the race, in 2005 she was the only female amputee in the race. Luckett said that it was absolutely amazing to experience the overwhelming support from the spectators and the other runners. "The Boston Marathon is something every runner should experience, and while it was a great race, I enjoyed the experience even more thanks to my friends and 26.2 Pit Crew' members Beth Ann Perkins and Betty Mary Grube, who traveled to Boston just to be with me for this experience and to cheer for me and support me at different places along the course."

But as inspiring as she is herself, Luckett was inspired in the Boston Marathon by another athlete, Jason Pisano, who has cerebral palsy. Luckett recalled, "Jason has completed several marathons, including many Boston's, by using his legs to push himself backwards in a wheelchair. I know how tough it is to run or even just walk those hills on the Boston course, so I can only imagine the training and perseverance he must have to push himself backwards up those hills!"

Luckett wishes to give thanks and credit to others. Not only does she credit her support group, husband, practitioner, Otto Bock HealthCare, and other athletes during the races for their inspiration, Luckett also gives credit to the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) of Del Mar, California. "I have been fortunate to receive a grant from the CAF to help cover my expenses to two marathons, including the Boston Marathon. Without their financial assistance, it would have been an even greater struggle to reach the finish line!"

Answering the question of what she hopes readers--whether or not they want to or can be runners--will take away from this article, Luckett replied, "The message that they can accomplish things they once thought were impossible, if they push themselves. We, as individuals, are stronger than we think we are."