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Blade Runner: Cancer survivor finds running, joy on the trails

About three years ago Jacky Hunt-Broersma decided to follow her husband’s lead and start running. She started with 5K races, like many runners do.

“I honestly thought that would be my longest distance, but very quickly I started to feel that I wanted to push my distance,” Hunt-Broersma says, noting she ran her first half marathon six months after starting her running journey. “It was supposed to be a 10K run, but the night before I thought it would be a good idea to change it to the half marathon. The following year I ran my first marathon and now I run trail ultras. Not in a million years would I have thought this possible.

Her journey is similar to others who transition from couch to a 5K and beyond. But Hunt-Broersma is also fairly unique as a runner — she’s a cancer survivor with a prosthesis.

“When we moved to the United States I asked my prosthetist for a running blade and I was amazed how much fun running could be with the right equipment,” says Hunt-Broersma, who was born in South Africa.

In 1998, Hunt-Broersma and her husband, Edwin, moved to The Netherlands because they wanted to travel. In 2001, while living in The Netherlands, she discovered a lump in her lower left leg.

The lump was the size of a golf ball and my doctor immediately sent me in for a biopsy,” she recalls. “The results showed that I had Ewing Sarcoma and the tumor had attached to the nerve of my foot. If they removed the tumor I would lose the use of my foot, so amputation was the best option. I was devastated and at the time I thought my life was over.”

But Hunt-Broersma rallied and found her inner strength. After the surgery, “something changed in my mindset and I was determined to live a ‘normal’ life,” she says. “I went back to work after four weeks and was playing squash after six weeks. I am determined to live the best life I can as an amputee.”

Loving life on the trails

Hunt-Broersma has lived in North Carolina for about three and a half years. “I’m proud to say the USA is where my running journey started.”

That journey — “a huge learning curve” — has taken her from the roads to the trails. “I’ve actually only got one running leg so I use it for road and trail,” Hunt-Broersma says. “It definitely makes it harder running on the trail and I am learning as I go along. I've had to learn how to place my blade on the trail so I don't fall. I've had to adapt my stride when I run on trails, because I don't have the ankle movement of a normal runner.”

It’s also a balancing act.

“I have also had to make sure I have a really good trail shoe on my right foot so if I slip, the right foot can help me a little more,” she says. “I need to add in extra strength training to my left side as to compensate for the extra running on my right side.”

Hunt-Broersma says she’s only fallen once, oddly enough on a flat section.

“I have to be more alert on the trails,” she says. “I am always looking at the ground because my blade gets stuck under roots and the rocks can be a real pain, but I absolutely love the challenge. It keeps my running interesting and fun.”

Giving and taking inspiration

To keep things interesting and challenging, she is plotting out an epic race calendar, including the Chicago Marathon.

“I’m super excited about 2019,” Hunt-Broersma says. “I'm planning on pushing my blade to new limits. I’ve got Uwharrie Mountain Run 20-Miler in February then the Umstead 100 (but I’m only running the 50-miler). My husband will be running the 100-miler so I am hoping to crew him once I am done with my 50.”

Her shortest race distance — the 10K Quest for the Crest — may be the most daunting.

“I think this race will be the most challenging out of all of my races,” she says. “It is a short distance but the first 2.8 miles have an 3,000-foot vertical climb. It will be interesting how my blade will deal with the terrain and the elevation. I think the downhill running on single track might be the hardest challenge, but I am super excited.”

Looking ahead, she has the Javelina Jundred and Yeti 100 on her bucket list. With all of these challenges, Hunt-Broersma draws inspiration from another ultra runner with a prosthesis.

“I follow so many inspirational runners and they all inspire me to keep going,” she says. “One of those runners is Dave Mackey. He is an amazing ultra runner and it must have been really hard to get back to ultra running after losing his leg and yet he still does amazing. Just incredible.”

At the same time, Hunt-Broersma is an inspiration to her legions of fans on Instagram who often see her running with her daughter.

Hunt-Broersma’s daughter, Eliza, has been part of the running journey since the start.

“She went to all my appointments for my fitting of my running blade and watched my transition from non-runner to runner,” Hunt-Broersma says. “She's always gone with me to my track sessions and she would normally chase me on her scooter or her bike. One day she asked if she could run with me and that is how our Sunday Run tradition started. I’ve learned not to pressure her about distance or pace and she always decides how far she wants to go and how fast and I am OK with that.

"All I want is for her to have fun.”

Speed drill

Name: Jacky Hunt-Broersma

Hometown: Cary, N.C.

Number of years running: Three years

How many miles a week do you typically run: Typically around 30 - 50 miles a week, depends on what I am training for

Point of pride: Finishing my first ultra, a 40-mile trail race in Greensboro, N.C. (Triple Lakes Trail race)

Favorite race distance: I'm not sure yet because I am going further every time. I do prefer longer races. I definitely prefer trail races

Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: Night before a big race I always have spaghetti. During my training runs and on race day I will use Cliff bloks for an extra boost and they help keep me going and of course water.

Favorite piece of gear: My Garmin Forerunner 935 watch and my Ultimate Direction Hydration Pack.

Favorite or inspirational song to run to: Follow your arrow by Kacey Musgraves and Rolling in the deep by Adele

Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: I don't need easy, I just need possible.

Where can other runners connect or follow you: I'm on Instagram and Twitter under @ncrunnerjacky

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