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March 23, 2014

Palmiero-Winters tackles Ultraman Florida and fashion show

MEADVILLE — Considering some of the distances that Meadville native Amy Palmiero-Winters has tackled during her lifetime, it’s ironic just how intimidating she found her latest journey, one that had her traveling a mere 30 yards or so.

This is a woman, after all, who just a few years ago managed to complete the Badwater Ultramarathon, a 135-mile run through Death Valley and up Mt. Whitney in the middle of summer.

Then at the end of February, Palmiero-Winters took on the Ultraman ultra-endurance triathlon in Florida, a race that included a 6.2-mile swim and a 90-mile bike ride on the first day, a 170-mile bike ride on day two, and a 52.4-mile run on the third and final day.

Yet, backstage at the VAWK fashion show on March 17, the opening day of World MasterCard Fashion Week in Toronto, Palmiero-Winters, about to show off a dress by famous Canadian designer Sunny Fong, found herself truly unnerved by the road ahead.

“The runway is, what, 25 meters long?” she said. “And staring down that runway, knowing that I had to do that short distance, was much more daunting than knowing that I had to run 100 miles.”

Palmiero-Winters was never one to shy away from a challenge, though. She’d proved that long ago. Back in 1994 a motorcycle accident claimed part of her left leg below the knee. But that didn’t stop her from becoming a nationally-renowned and record-setting below-knee amputee endurance athlete, along the way picking up an ESPY Award for top female athlete with a disability and a James E. Sullivan Award for America’s top amateur athlete.

The world of fashion, however, is a completely different animal.

“Very scary,” she said. “Definitely different.”

Her athletic endeavors were by no means easy. Take the Ultraman, for example. For two years she had attempted to complete the race. But both times she and her support team had ended up getting off course during the bicycle portion and missing the cut-off time for the stage. And although she eventually finished the triathlon both years, her times weren’t officially recognized.

“The one year I was lost for an hour, the other time it was over three hours that I was lost,” she said.

Her third attempt at the Ultraman wasn’t without its difficulties either. She admits that swimming is her weakest discipline in the triathlon. And the conditions for this year’s 6.2-mile swim in the Ultraman made it even more of a challenge.

“The water was 60 degrees. It was absolutely freezing,” Palmiero-Winters said. “By the first half-mile buoy I just wanted to get out of the water.

“And I tried to rationalize with myself about what was I going to say, how I was going to defend myself for getting out of the water, you know? What reason did I have that I couldn’t do this? I battled back and forth so many times because of the cold.”

At some point she discovered a handy internal getaway.

“As I was swimming I just imagined myself laying on a beach,” she said. “I kept my eyes closed and I just imagined I was laying on beach in the sun and that it was very warm. And that helped.”

She finished the swim in 4 hours and 51 seconds.

 “I was very, very pleased,” she said. “I felt very strong in the swim. I was ecstatic with my swim.”

Palmiero-Winters and her crew then negotiated both bicycle portions without a serious hitch. She finished the first day’s 90-mile portion in 6:11.10, and the second day’s 170-mile bike in 11:38.28.

On the third day she woke up and ran the equivalent of two full-length marathons in 11:54.40.

Her final time for the Ultraman was 33 hours, 45 minutes, nine seconds.

“We had four minutes to spare (before the cut-off),” Palmiero-Winters said.

She was one of just 29 athletes to complete this year’s race. And she was the first athlete with a prosthesis to ever do so.

A couple weeks later, she was backstage at the VAWK fashion show in Toronto for the designer Fong’s 2014 fall/winter collection, and she was fretting the next 30 yards.

Granted, instead of miles and miles of open road, this new course was surrounded by rolling cameras and popping flashbulbs, rows of high-fashion insiders and critics scrutinizing every detail. And instead of other athletes, she would be joined on this trip by a group of rail-thin, thoroughly gorgeous runway models.

Palmiero-Winters thought about something her 8-year-old daughter, Madilynn, had said to her beforehand.

“My daughter was looking at the photos of all the models, and she said, ‘Oh, so you’re going to be the strong model.’

“I thought, ‘Yeah, perfectly put.’

“She didn’t say, ‘You’re not skinny enough,’ or, ‘You’re not tall enough.’ She said, ‘Oh, you’re the strong one.’”

And so, the 41-year-old mother of two and former tool shop worker headed out along the catwalk. She paused for a beat at the far edge ... turned around ... and walked back again.

The next day she was the talk of the Canadian press, which was drawn to Fong’s middle eastern-influenced design, the intricate leather-bound prosthesis cover created by Alleles Design Studios, and the unique model that wore it all.

She then returned to her current residence in New York, where she works as a director for Team A Step Ahead Prosthetics; to her daughter Madilynn and 10-year-old son Carson; and to a new perspective on what pushing the limits really means.

“We always focus on a specific area that we’re good at,” she said. “But it’s also good to be taken out of your comfort zone and into a different experience.”

And yet, “If I could walk the runway or do the Ultraman, I would definitely go back to the Ultraman,” she said with a laugh.


Pete Chiodo can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at

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