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Jacky Hunt-Broersma Runs Because She’s Alive

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Herbert Krabel

By: Herbert Krabel

Herbert Krabel grew up in Southern Germany but now resides on the East Coast of the USA with his wife Amy and his 11-year-old twin sons. He raced mountain bikes professionally in the early 90s and then explored triathlon for a few years. More recently he found a passion for trail running, unique ultra-distance races and locations, and SwimRun. He also loves art, architecture, and European chocolates.

In 2022 Jacky Hunt-Broersma ran 104 marathons in 104 days to inspire others while setting a World Record at the time for most consecutive marathons – but she was also running to make peace with herself. You might know Jacky as an adaptive athlete, an amputee, but she only started running in 2017, 16 years after she lost part of her left leg at the age of 26 due to a rare form of cancer. 

“I still remember getting the diagnosis as if it was yesterday. It’s not something I ever want to wish on anyone. The first thing I thought was that I was in a dream and that cancer happens to other people. I thought I was going to wake up any minute from this nightmare. I had just got a promotion at work and life seemed great and then this happened. Then a week after the cancer diagnosis I find out that my leg needs to be amputated to prevent the cancer from spreading. That was a double whammy and I never thought that I would lead a normal life again.”

On the first day of August last year Jacky celebrated 21 years’ cancer free and in honor of that anniversary started a new streak. Running 21-kilometers every day because running had completely changed her life. She in fact had not been a runner prior to her amputation. She swam when she was younger but running wasn’t her thing. She would hide in the bathroom when they had any kind of “track days” at school, ironic now she can’t imagine her life without running.  

“Running helped me accept my new body and showed me how strong I could be. I am also super grateful that I can run, that I am alive, because so many people don’t survive cancer and can’t do what I do. That is why I decided to run a minimum of 21km [honoring 21 years’ cancer free] every day for someone who is either a survivor, going through cancer treatment or who unfortunately lost their lives to cancer. My followers have sent me names of people they would like me to run for, so every day I run for someone else. It was a way of saying it’s ok to talk about your cancer and that you are not alone in going through this. Cancer can be a really lonely place. You often think that others don’t understand what you are going through. You feel scared and angry and this way I am spreading a little hope, a little love and letting people know that they are not alone. I am also raising funds for Cancer research because I do hope that one day we will find a cure for this horrible disease,” said Jacky.   

Jacky BH running in the desert.

She is hoping to get to 250 days of running at least 21-kilometers a day, but said that she might go even longer if she feels good. She also has not stopped entering races along the way, and at the end of 2023 ran the Javelina 100-kilometer race. A little longer than 21-kilometers, but worth every step to get to party in the desert. Running an extra 80-kilometers might feel like no big deal until you are starring down another 21-kilometers the day after.

“Javelina 100-kilometer is not like any other ultra I have run before. It honestly feels like one big party in the desert. Javelina was on my bucket list for a while, and I was on the waiting list. I found out three weeks before the race that I had a spot, so I jumped on it. The run the day before Javelina was good and legs felt good – the day after was a little rough because my legs were tired and I was tired as I hadn’t slept much. I fought through that and then the next day I was good again.”  

Most of us who have stepped into the ultra-distance know there are many physical and mental struggles that come up along the way… but most of us also have no idea what it is like to run with a prosthetic no matter the distance. While it might feel like your legs are falling off mid-race – that’s an actual problem Jacky has to worry about. 

“The Javelina course can be a tricky one as it gets really hot in the Arizona sun. I live in Arizona and I had a hard time on the course. Running with a prosthetic makes it so much more complicated. I have so many other things I need to think about and so many things that can go wrong. Firstly, running on rocky course is challenging as my blade gets caught on all the rocks and totally tears up my tread. I had to stop a few times on the course, because my stump had developed blisters. I run with a vacuum system and if I don’t have the liner on correctly then the vacuum sucks on the wrong part of my skin and it literally rip the skin off. My stump will also shrink during a longer race so I need to make sure I have enough cushioning just before it’s too late to prevent my stump from bruising. I add extra socks to my liner to add cushioning. Once it bruises then it’s hard to recover. Sometimes my stump just isn’t happy on race day and then the race can be tough from the start. My stump can be swollen so the socket won’t fit properly etc. I’ve learned in the six years of running that I need to be flexible with my goals for my races. Some go totally as planned but others are just rough from the start due to issues with my prosthetic and stump. I have had tread fall off during a race and had to duct tape it back on. My valve broke during a race and I lost suction so my leg kept falling off. These are all scenarios I have to think about and have a plan to fix it. I guess that’s why I love ultrarunning so much because you constantly need to problem solve.”

It is however not just about running. Just like we have to take care of ourselves on and off the trail, Jacky has to deal with the prosthetic in daily life and has to make many adaptations.

“I try to keep the prosthetic clean and check the carbon often to see if it’s splitting at all. Once the carbon starts splitting then you know it’s time for a new leg. I also remove the valve for my vacuum system and clean that out. Arizona sand gets in everywhere and when the valve is dirty then my leg has a hard time staying on. I also need to take good care of my stump, especially with all the running. The back of my knee will swell up a lot due to running which causes a lot of chafing so I need to ice and massage my stump after every run.” 

While there are no rest days on the horizon Jacky says that she takes recovery very seriously. She tries to eat well, hydrate and uses her massage gun. She also takes baths in NOW magnesium flakes which she believes really helps her muscles to recover faster. Again, it’s not just about on the trail care, off the trail is just as critical to keep us all running.

Jacky BH running in the Arizona Desert

Jacky, originally from South Africa, is gearing up for the 2024 Comrades Marathon, a very special homecoming. Since leaving Cape Town in 1998 she and her husband lived in the Netherlands for seven years, followed by 13 years in the UK, before finally settling in the US in 2015. Jacky, now a mom of an 11-year-old girl and a 13-year-old boy was encouraged to start running by her husband who is also an avid runner – their story will seemingly be coming full circle in this trip home.

“The Comrades Marathon was one of the races as a South African you knew about and followed as a kid. Every year they aired it live on TV – we only had 3 channels so it was a big deal. I’d watch Bruce Fordyce cross that finish line and just think how absolutely amazing he was. It definitely wasn’t something I thought about ever running myself though. Comrades only became a thought when I started running ultras. I thought that it would be amazing to run a race that I used to watch as a child. I haven’t been back to South Africa in over 9 years now so we will be adding a little vacation to the trip so that we can see family. I can’t wait to take my kids on a safari. They have only ever seen elephants and lions at zoos so this will be one incredible experience for them.”  

In addition to the Comrades Marathon Jacky also has a few 200-milers on her bucket list plus big ticket races like the historic Western States 100-mile and the Leadville 100-mile. Because what can’t Jacky do? What started as a journey to gain confidence in her body, to remind herself she is strong and resilient, has become a run streak that has inspired so many of us. Whatever start lines Jacky finds herself at in the coming years you know we’ll be there to cheer her on. 

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