Amy Dodson on the cover of Runner's World, July 2011
Amy talking with @smithbend on town square of Bell Buckle, June 2001
It has been my good luck to stand in a place where I met some pretty amazing people. Two of them—Amy Dodson and Susan Ford—will be running The Ironman World Championship at Kona, Hawaii this coming Saturday. Both are my good friends, although they never met each other. And both began their endurance journey in Cookeville, Tennessee. Because of that commonality they planned to share a hotel room at Kona.
This story is about Amy. It’s an old story, first published in Running Journal. Although already written, it was on my mind in April, 2000 as I was running the Boston Marathon for the first time, because that’s when the story appeared.
The story is about how Amy started running. In one sense, it’s a disservice to her, because she has since accomplished so much. Just part of it makes a long list: Boston Marathon first woman leg amputee, marathon world record, 100-mile ultramarathon, two-time ITU World Paratriathlon Champion… It goes on. But this story is about how she began.
Say you lose your left leg to cancer, and two years later your left lung, too…What do you do now?
Well, if you’re Amy Dodson you run a marathon. That’s what the Cookeville, Tennessee runner has done, finishing the Disney World Marathon in a time of 5:28:04, ahead of some 3,500 other runners. It was her first marathon. She is planning others.
The road to Disney World was a long one, beginning some seventeen years ago. The Tucson native was a junior at the University of Arizona when cancer claimed her left leg from below the knee. Two years later it claimed part of her left lung too.
Running was not part of her plans then. Just learning to walk was a challenge. “It was hard,” she says.” “And it hurt! Walking is complicated. You wouldn’t think so, but it is.”
Running would wait—wait until college and teaching in New York, wait until she found herself working as a librarian in Cookeville, Tennessee. It was there, walking around the track one day that she suddenly started to run. No plans, no preliminaries, she just started. “You know, I’ll just give it a try,” she remembers thinking.
It was a struggle at first. Her prosthetic leg was adequate for walking but too stiff for running. “It beat me up pretty bad,” she recalls. She didn’t quit. She bought another leg, one designed especially for running.
Barely two weeks after starting to run, she entered her first 5K. From that beginning she soon became a regular runner at local road races. Her appearances attract attention and interest, her finishes inspire and amaze. The RC Cola Moon Pie 10-miler at Bell Buckle last summer was especially memorable, considering the withering heat and a punishing hill on that course. A big crowd was on hand as Amy ran through that heat down Main Street and turned the corner to the finish line. The effort and spirit showed in her face. Even the loquacious announcer was stunned into silence as he turned to watch her pass. Finally, recovering, he managed: “The runner who just finished, finished in under two hours.”
Indeed. And ahead of a passel of runners.
Gaining experience, Amy attended the Disabled Sports/USA National Summer Games in August at Fairfax, Virginia. There she took the gold medal in the 5000 meters, finishing in 28:46. Speaking of her time, “It wasn’t very good,” she says, always striving to improve. Her current 5K PR is 26:52
When asked, she doesn’t recall any single event that caused her to suddenly start running. “I’ve always admired runners. If I saw someone running—young or old—I just admired them. It seemed like something I’d like to do. I don’t know…”
Her love of running connects unexpectedly with another love: music. A gifted musician, she was classically trained on the flute. As a member of the Tucson Symphony Orchestra in 1984, she gave the first public performance of the Kino Saga Symphony by Camille Van Hulse.
Just as loss of a leg presents a running challenge, loss of lung power presents a flute playing challenge. “It’s a wind instrument; it takes wind. The longer passages are hard. You have to be more careful with your breathing,” she says.
Led by her dual love of music and running, she organized the first Allegro 5K last October. The run benefits the Bryan Symphony Orchestra. Three brass ensembles entertained along the way.
She has more marathons planned—one in June and then Tucson in December. She hopes to better the world record of 4:17:55 for her class. Based on her projections from her 5K and 10K times she has a realistic chance. Further down the road, she has contacted the Boston Athletic Association about qualifying in a special division for the Boston Marathon, and she wants to run New York. “Especially New York, since I lived there,” she says.
Note: In April, 2002 Amy became the first woman leg amputee to run the Boston Marathon. And in October, 2002 she set the world record, a time of 3:52.