Episode 38 - Finding Your Grit and Grace With Double Amputee Marathoner Jami MarseillesDec 06, 2021
Surviving 11 days in a snowed-in car is an enormous feat in and of itself, but achieving what Jami Marseilles has after having both her legs amputated as a result of this harrowing ordeal is an entirely new level of powerhouse. Jami is a mother, a teacher, an author, and the first woman bilateral below-the-knee amputee to have completed a full marathon (and she’s done two!). Everything she does is achieved with grace, positivity, and humor, and her skills as a teacher extend way beyond the classroom; every human being on the planet can learn invaluable lessons from Jami about the power of the mind, and how to turn a tragic experience into something miraculous. This episode will leave you feeling inspired to tackle any challenge that comes your way!
Key Points From This Episode:
- Jami describes what she was like as a child.
- The accident that changed Jami and her friend Lisa’s life forever.
- Treatment that Jami receives post-accident, and how this differed from Lisa’s treatment.
- How Jami and Lisa found ways to drink water during their 11-day ordeal.
- When Jami realized she was going to lose her legs and why she decided on the below-knee amputation.
- An experience Jami had in the hospital after her amputation that gave her a lot of her confidence back.
- What Jami gained from moving away from her hometown.
- How Jami was introduced to running and the profound impact it had on her.
- Jami’s first full marathon experience and the people who inspired her to do it.
- The battle that Jami has been fighting for the past 5 years and what she has learned during this journey.
- Love that Jami has for her job and why she had to make the heartbreaking decision to leave.
- The book that Jami authored and why it didn’t get the publicity it deserves.
“When you dedicate yourself and you work hard, it's never too late to do anything.” — @IamJamiM [0:06:39]
“I've always believed in my heart I owe it to the world to make a difference while I’m here.” — @IamJamiM [0:11:00]
“Running gave me the confidence and the support to accept myself as a young, beautiful woman again.” — @IamJamiM [0:26:49]
“Exercise and moving your body is the best medicine that you can ever give yourself. Some of the healthiest medicine.” — @IamJamiM [0:28:03]
“Don't beat yourself up for what you don't accomplish in a day. Your life is a marathon. It's not a sprint.” — @IamJamiM [0:37:12]
“My next purpose is to show that cancer is not a death sentence. It's just another terminal illness, that you have to learn how to live with and have to learn how to juggle in life.” — @IamJamiM [0:48:28]
Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode:
[00:00:06] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to From Potential to Powerhouse: Success Secrets from Female Leaders, where female trailblazers share their journeys and the aha moments that made all the difference, with your host, serial entrepreneur and trailblazer herself, Tracy Holland.
[00:00:23] TH: Hi, friends. It's Tracy Holland on Potential to Powerhouse. Today we have a true story of a powerhouse. Her name is Jami Marseilles. This is a story that's really emotional. One of learning, one of resilience, one of tenacity, one of endurance. If you have any doubt in your mind about what's possible and what you can accomplish in this lifetime, this is the story for you.
Jami Marseilles is the epitome of sheer endurance and survival. She emerged from an unthinkable 11 days stranded in a car, with a friend, in which she was caught in a terrible snowstorm in a desolate area in northern Arizona. After 11 days, which you're going to hear about her time in the car during that time, she was rescued by snowmobilers. As a result of frostbite, she lost both of her legs.
Believe it or not, exercise was her key to recovery. She became a marathoner. She, prior to losing her legs, was never a runner. In fact, probably would say she didn't exercise very much. Once she lost both of her legs, she realized that she needed to push herself beyond the limits that she imposed on herself. She's completed six half marathons, and she's the only woman, bilateral amputee, below the knee, to have finished a full marathon.
What you're going to hear is what happened when she crossed the line at the Boston Marathon. At the end of that marathon, was received by the woman who lost both of her legs in the Boston bombing.
Jami is a mother. She is a wife. She's an author. She's a school teacher. She resides in Huntington Beach, California. Now, she's about four years in and embarking on the biggest fight of her life, which is her fight against cancer, and how she's overcome a diagnosis that gave her a very short time to live. Four years later, she is the epitome of resilience, of tenacity, of love, of strength. It was such an honor to sit down and have this conversation with her. I can't wait to share this with you.
[00:02:43] Jami Marseilles. Welcome today to Potential to Powerhouse. I'm really excited to talk to you today, share your story. I first met you through a mutual friend that we have, who was glowing when I told him what Potential to Powerhouse was, what it represented, that it really represents the journey for powerhouse women and what it takes to grow into our potential, and who we are as human beings and as the unfolding of who we are professionally, personally, spiritually, all of those things, I was describing the purpose and Tim said, “I know someone who should be on your podcast. Jami Marseilles has to be on your podcast. You are not going to believe her story.”
When I hear those things, I really take notice, especially because he knows so many powerhouse women. My first conversation with you, I left that phone call with you with body chills, and realized, all of us have this different journey or path and you as this powerhouse, professional, mother, athlete have built this incredible life, and we're going to talk about all the incredible things you've done. But you are doing it despite some of the most difficult of circumstances, right?
[00:04:00] JM: Yeah. Absolutely.
[00:04:01] TH: Before we talk about what those circumstances are, I just would love to hindsight, what was Jami like as a little girl? Were you a rule follower? Were you a rule breaker? What were you like when you were growing up?
[00:04:14] JM: I think I was a little bit of both. We'll get to it, but I had a tragic accident at 19. In my mind, I think about what I was before and how I ultimately changed after that accident. My younger self, no, I was very shy. My mom loves to share a story where, in our neighborhood in Chicago, I mean, it was early 70s, kids are running around, I mean, we're ringing the bell, it’s for dinner, it was as a joke. You were able to do that.
As soon as everyone left our yard, I just sat there and just wanted them to come back. I was afraid to go, they were like, “The older neighbor who's 15, she'll walk you over there.” I was very on the timid side and liked to stay home. A big reader, which I'm grateful that I have that, starting with comic books and then increasing till I was older. I loved to read books. Quiet. Not very athletic, which is ironic, because that’ll change, too. Just really enjoying family and friends in my own home. A little bit shy to venture out into the world.
[00:05:12] TH: Were you one of many sibs, or are you an only child?
[00:05:15] JM: I have a brother. I was the oldest. I'm actually the oldest grandchild of six of us. I had this amazing relationship with my grandfather being the oldest grandchild. I felt, going through school, I was more afraid of disappointing him in regards to grades and work, than I was my parents. It was always in the back of my mind is, “What would Poppy think? What would Poppy want? I need to work hard. I need to study and make sure that I keep Poppy happy.”
[00:05:45] TH: Then, were you raised in San Diego, or where were you based?
[00:05:49] JM: I was born in Illinois. Then, we moved to Arizona when I was 11. Then I moved to California when I was 24. I've been in California almost my whole life. Most of it. Most of it. That's my venture. I still have family in the Midwest. I still have family in Arizona, and now here in California.
[00:06:08] TH: Were you a pretty good student, it sounds like?
[00:06:10] JM: Yes. Up until high school. Yes.
[00:06:14] TH: I had one of those, too. Did you know that you wanted to be a teacher at that point in time? Was that your goal?
[00:06:22] JM: Yeah, that's a great question. I always loved working with kids. Even in high school, I always babysat. I always wanted to be a teacher in some realm, not knowing where it would take me. I'm really grateful, it took me a long time to get there, but I finally did it. Time is of the essence but when you dedicate yourself and you work hard, it's never too late to do anything.
[00:06:44] TH: Right. I agree. Let's go to the accident. Let's fast forward. You said you were 19?
[00:06:50] JM: I was. I was 19. I was a college student, in my sophomore year of college, and a business major. Just enjoying life. Had a boyfriend. Living off campus. The first time I had an apartment. I'll never forget with my parents, we were looking at apartments, I wasn't going to have a roommate. We walked into a studio. I’m like, where's the bedroom? I was so naïve. I'm like, “Where's the bedroom?” They're like, “If we're paying for this, your bed is going to go in the corner over there. You get one room with the kitchen and a bathroom.” I was like, “Oh, okay.”
So I lived in a studio. It was great. I was so fortunate that I worked and went to college full-time, and my parents helped support me. Life was good. I went on a ski trip. Drove with my girlfriend from Arizona to New Mexico and skied for a few days. On December 23rd, 1987, we were driving home, and we wound up taking a wrong turn, which people do all the time. Normally, you take the wrong, you turn around and get back to where you're going.
Our wrong turn actually led us to a gas station, because we knew we were in the wrong area. They did not have a map to sell us, but the gentleman had a big wall map on the wall, and so he explained to us where we were and where we needed to be. My girlfriend, Lisa, had to work that day. We were a little pressured for time, a little stressed. He explained, “If you take this background behind the Sunrise Ski Resort, you'll get to the main road and you'll be good.”
We listened to him. He said, “Go to route 273. Turn, etc.” We did it. Came to route 273, turned. Well, this was a small road. What we found out later is when he said go to route 273, and we found this out years later, he meant, “To 73.” We came upon route 273, the numbers, and turned, where if we had driven another, I don't know how far, a mile or two, we would have come to route 73.
This is all, because we wound up suing the state of Arizona and it all came out in litigation. We turned on 273, Lisa and I were like, “Oh, yeah. This is where we turned. This is where we're supposed to go. That's what he said.” A storm started. This is 1987, so we had to physically get out of the car, put it in four-wheel drive, keep going. Eventually, we hit a snowbank and the car stopped.
We jumped out, trying to rock the car back and forth and just get out of there and it wouldn't move. We had seen snow plows five days prior on our incoming trip when we first left. “Oh, someone's going to come. A snow plow will long any moment.” The next morning we woke up, the battery died. The storm was horrendous. We did nothing. I was 19 and Lisa was 18. I didn't grow up camping. I mean, I grew up in Chicago shopping. I mean, right?
In Arizona, I like to ski. That was the only activity or athletics I participated in. After the storm finally stopped, I think about four or five days, we said, “We better get out of here.” No one's around. There's this white, vast wilderness. We tried to walk. We haven't eaten or drank anything for five days. We got maybe 40 feet, 50 feet. I'm not a big person. At the time, I was barely 5 feet. Lisa was smaller than me. The snow went up to almost mid-thigh.
I went first, so it was easier for her to step into my footsteps. This is all common sense. It's not like I have this wilderness training. She collapsed in the snow. I looked back and she had a bloody nose, and we talked about it and said, “Well, at this point, let's go back to the car.” That was the first decision of many that saved our life. We wound up being trapped in that car for another week. We were there for a total of 11 days.
Sometimes when I say it, instead of getting teary eyed, I have to laugh. Because I believe humor makes everything better. It's like, I'm a proud amputee. I've worn prosthetics now for over 30 something years. When I'm out in public, and people ask me, it's like, “Oh, I got trapped in a car for 11 days.” They're like, “What?” I think, because you become acclimated to your own story. I was listening to your podcast with Cynthia Rowley, talking about everyone has their own story.
I survived that, very close to death challenge. I've always believed in my heart I owe it to the world to make a difference while I’m here. Because after we were found, I had frostbite on all my extremities. Everything came back. I have my fingers, nose, ears, but my feet suffered the worst. After about 10, 12 days in the hospital, that's when they talked about the amputation.
[00:11:19] TH: Jami, did Lisa suffer the same outcome?
[00:11:24] JM: She wound up having partial amputations on almost all of her toes. Right away, they started treatment for both of us. They explained it like, you're at work and you're in a cubicle and your partner gets the flu and you don't. Or, you have a cold and no one else in the house gets it. It's just how your own body, and how your own immune system handles things.
She wound up not having the direct amputation, where I did. Then over the years, she had over 10 surgeries, her feet are super fragile, her arch is real delicate. Because they basically saved the feet, but the nerves and the tissue still had extensive damage. A different type of disability where, I'm a big believer in God and the universe, and I really believe that God knew I could handle it, and he knew that she couldn't. Or God can be a woman, she knew that Lisa couldn’t handle it. I believe that's the path that was paved for us.
[00:12:17] TH: I just want to go through, do you have a distinct memory of those 11 days?
[00:12:23] JM: Yes and no. I can't remember what I did yesterday, let alone this morning but sometimes when I close my eyes, and I pray and meditate, one thing that will be with me forever is the day we were found. I mean, sitting in that car for 11 days, and all of a sudden, two people show up at the car. The fact they were on snowmobiles, and we didn't hear them was just astonishing.
Some of the days blend. I remember trying to walk out. Pictures definitely jog memory. I remember, Lisa had a journal. Every day, she would write in the journal. After we were found, we used that and we would reflect back on it and look at it. We were like, “Wow, I remember that. I remember that.” I remember, I think the last three days, it was one word. “Help. Find me.” It was not sentences like it was in the beginning.
Your mind, your brain is a pretty amazing tool, and how it works to protect you from maybe fear, anxiety, the unknown. I'm grateful that I can keep some of those memories, especially when I opened that door and Mr. Mike Estus and his son, Jake, were right there to save our life.
[00:13:31] TH: Whoa. Did you all have food in the car during this time? Did you have snacks?
[00:13:36] JM: No. I mean, I was 19, she was 18, so we had a six-pack of Diet Pepsi. This was 1987. I mean, here I am doing my podcast with you, my water is as close as can be. Back in the late mid-80s, we didn't have water around. We had eaten that day and it was a four, or five-hour drive home. No, we didn't have snacks and we didn't have food. Something we did do, which again, was just using our own self-innovations trying to figure out what to do is that day we came back from when the storm stopped and we tried to walk away, we said, “Well, maybe we can eat snow.” We're so dehydrated. We knew that. We knew snow is a solid, but it eventually becomes a liquid. We gathered snow and we started eating it. Then we're not realizing, we actually put more pressure on our body, because our organs had to turn that solid into a liquid.
We figured, “Well, okay, this isn't working. What if we could melt the snow?” Again, another huge blessing from God that A, the windows never exploded, or cracked. B, we were in such a high elevation, we were able to use the dashboard as heat to melt snow. Little sips of water, that sustained our life for that second week, for that seven days.
[00:14:54] TH: Whoa. Holy smokes.
[00:14:57] JM: It was just a test. Being two young girls traveling, we had hairspray, makeup. Anything we could find that can become a container to melt the water is what we used.
[00:15:09] TH: Do you remember being in the hospital and there's 10 to 12 days that go by? At any point, were you thinking, “Gosh, they're going to need to amputate my legs”?
[00:15:19] JM: No. I never could have imagined. I never knew the word amputation. I'm embarrassed to say at my middle school, my high school, I never knew anyone that used a wheelchair. Where were they in the late 80s? I mean, I'm grateful that I now have this voice, and I'm an advocate for people with disabilities, because we should all be together. There's no reason for us to be in different places.
At one point, they did come in, my doctor and a surgeon, and a prosthetist, who's a specialist that is trained to build your prosthetic legs after an amputation, or a prosthetic arm, came in and talked to me about the potential of that happening. They showed me a video of a woman who was missing one prosthetic leg. The video showed how she took it off and on. I was appalled. I was like, “I'm never going to take my leg off.” I was almost like, “Uh.” I was so naive.
I was actually borderline ignorant, because I didn't know. When I share my story with kids, adults, corporations, I mean, something I talk about is, I love taking my legs off. It's like, when you get home, don't you want to take your high heels off? I mean, what makes you feel good? But I also love putting my legs on, because they've given me this amazing life. In the hospital, I have some gaps of memory, but little pieces that I do remember.
[00:16:35] TH: Who did come into your hospital room and explain to you what was going to happen? Is that a family member? Did the doctors talk to a family member and then asked them to talk to you, or –
[00:16:47] JM: Both. After they came in with this video and showed me this and I was just so distraught, and so emotional, it was my grandfather and my mom that came in, and they gave me tough love, especially my grandfather. He always gave me tough love. He's like, “Listen, you're in this hospital bed. Everything's getting better, but your feet are now black. They have gangrene. It's slowly working its way up your calves. We can amputate here and you can go by boots.”
I was so afraid of going back into society and not feeling like a whole woman. Growing up, I loved to dance, and I loved to wear high heels. My grandfather said, “They can do that for you. You can go to a store. You're not going to be stuck in a black, brown or white orthopedic shoe, many years before, but you need to get better.” At this point too, my body was starting to get sick from the infection on my feet. So really at this point, I was given that tough love. I had to sign the documents though. I was 19. I had to sign away like, “Yes, please. Cut my feet off.”
That moment was very intense. I knew for my body to get better, and I wanted to get out of the hospital. I wanted to go home. I want to go back to college. I wanted my life back. That was one of the first steps of achieving that, was signing the paperwork.
[00:18:02] TH: It literally had been almost a month from that first road trip to –
[00:18:07] JM: About three weeks, because yeah, give or take. I was in the hospital a total of 49 days. I think they amputated a little bit less than the two-week mark. Maybe within five or seven days, they had that conversation with me. Then a couple days after that they're like, “It's not a choice.” My mom and my grandfather were like, “If you want to continue to live and have an open and bright future, we have to amputate.”
[00:18:30] TH: Did they let you decide where? Or when they amputated you, they say, “Okay, here's how prosthetics work”?
[00:18:38] JM: That's a great question. They could have left my limb a lot longer. Then, I would have been limited to a black, white or brown shoe at that time. Because I'm missing both my legs, a selling point was like, “Hey, you want to get taller?” I'm like, “What do you mean? I'm 5 feet.” They’re like, “Well, you are bilateral, so we can raise you up a little bit.” That was fun over the years. I've gone higher in height and gone back down. They explained to me, if we amputated about 5 to 6 inches below my knee, it would give me great flexibility. Then, I would have the opportunity to wear regular shoes and walk into a store, and we can create a foam calf. If I wanted to wear leggings or tight pants, everything would mold together. It was their suggestion. Ultimately, I decided and I went with that decision, instead of leaving it longer and having more limitations on my options for activity level and shoe choices.
[00:19:34] TH: Whoa.
[00:19:35] JM: It was hard. Within probably a month of getting out of the hospital, I went to the store and I had to have these red cowboy boots. I was like, “I need them. I want them.” I learned to shop with a shoe horn. I'll never forget, we were in a department store and they got stuck. The boot was stuck on my prosthetic foot, and we couldn't get it off. I'm sweating. I'm panicking. I'm with my mom. I think my mom and my grandma at the time. I wound up having to take my prosthetic leg off in the department store, which was horrifying for me at the time.
Now, I could care less. If my leg hurts, I'll sit. I'll find a corner and store and pop it off and deal with whatever. I don't care. At that time, I was young, and I was mortified. My mom and my grandma, with the help of a salesman, got the boot off. We never did that again. I learned to get – Actually, my shoe horn is now this long, so it goes in. Humor makes everything better. A lot of learning curves. I grew up really quick at 19.
[00:20:37] TH: I bet.
[00:20:37] JM: Yeah. I was forced to embrace what it's like, to go back into a world of able-bodied humans, where now my body comes apart in different ways. How does that work? Living in a world that's very different than me?
[00:20:54] TH: What did your boyfriend at that time, how did he handle that? I mean, did you end up breaking up? Was it as a result of this?
[00:21:03] JM: We wound up breaking up. It was a few months later. My boyfriend at that time, it was actually Lisa’s brother. That's why I was traveling with her. He was great. I'll never forget a story my mom told me. He was at the hospital after they decided to amputate. He was sitting outside my room crying. My grandfather said, “No, you can't do this.” His name was Mike. “If you're going to sit here and cry, you need to leave. She's alive, and that's what matters. We're not going to do this.”
I will say though, we did something that's not appropriate, but I can share it with your audience, because it gave me the confidence as a woman. After my amputation, I'm still in the hospital, and we've been together for a couple years, I'm 19, he's 20. We were intimate in the hospital. I was in the kids’ ward. We took a washcloth and threw it over the camera, because there's – I really believe – I always thank Mike for that, because that first time gave me the confidence of like, “It's going to be okay. I don't have my feet or my legs, but everything else still works, so we're good.” We did eventually break up a few months later, and it was more life and growing apart. It wasn't because of the accident and what I went through.
[00:22:08] TH: That's incredible. And like, “I'm still attractive.”
[00:22:12] JM: Yes, I needed that. I needed that confidence to know that I could go back out into the world, and feel good about myself. Because what you exude from the inside, people will honor that and respect you for it. If you're a little bit concerned about your looks, and you're almost embarrassed, then they're not going to embrace you as a whole woman. It took me a while to figure that out. I went through other boyfriends, and there was times I dated. Then, we went on a few dates, three or four dates. They didn't know, then they found out. Then we stopped dating. Was it because of me? I had to just flush all that down the toilet. Because it wasn't because of me. It was because of you, and whatever your hang ups were. Not mine.
[00:22:56] TH: For sure. Incredible. If you could look at who you thought of yourself as at that time, and your outlook and mindset, were you optimistic? Were you fired up? Were you thinking, “Gosh, I'm not going to let this slow me down”? Or, was there a period of time where you were really worried about being able to fulfill the dreams that you had for yourself?
[00:23:19] JM: I think all of it. I think I definitely fluctuated on that continuum of, “I'm strong. I'm alive.” And, “Oh, my gosh, is anyone going to love me again? Am I going to get married? Am I going to have kids?” It definitely was a constant wave of emotions, especially with going back to college, getting a job, having a boyfriend, losing a boyfriend. The biggest jump I made was leaving my family and moving to California.
Little did I know that my family and my best friends all made bets behind my back of how quick I would come back. Because I was – Sunday night dinners with my family, my grandparents, my cousins. It's not far. Arizona is one state over. But 20, I don't know how long I've been here, I proved them all wrong, and I made them give me the money. “You need to give me this little bet you guys had going on,” because I won. I'm still in California.
That really gave me the confidence of, I got off my mom's health insurance. I had to find my own health insurance. I had to find a job. I went back to college. That's really when I started plowing my own dreams, and really going forward in life and handling the good with the bad, and anything that came along.
[00:24:28] TH: Then at that point, were you thinking, “I'm going to become a teacher”? Or how did you navigate professionally?
[00:24:35] JM: Yeah. That was my ultimate goal. I wound up working in a childcare center. I went back to college to get a degree in Child and Family Studies. I wanted to work in daycare, and then I was going to go on and get my credential. I was on that path. I graduated with my second bachelor's degree in Child and Family Studies from Cal State Long Beach. It's amazing when you're dedicated to school. I graduated 3/9. Not like when I went to ASU and I was young, just playing. I knew what my career path was going to be.
Then, my grandfather got sick with leukemia, and he passed away. It was very shocking. It was very hard. Right after that happened, I guess, it was more before, my prosthetist, because that was the other thing, moving to California, I had to find someone to make my legs, because I was in this bubble from my parents. I found this man and he was amazing. He wound up showing me videos of the Paralympics.
I didn't even know this sport existed. These athletes running on these crazy spring legs. It was just amazing. I had this opportunity after my grandfather passed away. Because I figured, I was still working. After my grandfather passed away, and something backing up a little bit, he always believed in exercise. I didn't. I was a lazy kid. Besides skiing, I did everything I could to get out of PE. I just didn't like to exercise. It made me sweaty. It was for boys. Make it go away. I mean, that's all changed now.
After my accident, I was told by my physical therapist that, “You have to exercise. You need to build muscle. You have to make up for the 25% of your body you're missing.” There was my grandfather with his tough love, “I told you so. It wouldn’t be so hard if you had exercised your whole life.” I did that for about, I think it was seven years, until he passed away.
Then when he passed away, and I had this Paralympic running opportunity that had come up a month before. I figured, what a beautiful way to continue his legacy and his belief. Wait, I didn't run when I had legs. Now, I have these prosthetic legs and I'm going to run? How does that make sense? I've never looked back.
I mean, running opened up so many doors for me. I mean, I fell down a lot. It was a huge learning curve. I didn't make the Paralympics. I was crushed. I mean, so many things happened. So many doors were open, and running gave me the confidence and the support to accept myself as a young, beautiful woman again. Because I started training with different Olympic athletes that didn't use prosthetics; men, women, nobody cares what you look like. You just become part of this community and this world of boosting everyone up. For me, becoming an athlete at 28 changed everything. It really gave me the confidence to be a strong woman and go back out into the world.
[00:27:20] TH: Now, and I don't want to give away too much here, but how many half marathons and marathons have you run now?
[00:27:28] JM: Okay. I've run two marathons and half, it's terrible, I think seven. I think there's seven. Then a multitude of 5Ks and 10Ks.
[00:27:38] TH: You're a full-blown runner.
[00:27:40] JM: Yes. I was until some medical stuff came up. Yes, I was a full-blown runner for a good, almost 15 years. Even through my kids and pregnancies, whether it was a mile, or a couple miles. But yes, I loved it. No matter how hard it was, I always went back to the gym and running, because it makes me feel so good. Exercise and moving your body is the best medicine that you can ever give yourself. Some of the healthiest medicine.
[00:28:09] TH: For literally anyone, because I mean, I haven't even run a half marathon and I have both my legs. I don't know if I could, but I mean, I guess, if I trained I could.
[00:28:20] JM: It’s here. It’s all there.
[00:28:21] TH: A full marathon seems such an incredibly monumentuous feat. I can't even think about what that could look like.
[00:28:31] JM: Yeah. It's our mutual friend, Tim. It's all his fault. Next time you see him, give him a good smack and tell him, “Yeah, thanks a lot.” I mean, Tracy, it was, I'd run about, I don’t know, five, six, seven half marathons. I ran quite a few. I was very proud to say, I'm the only bilateral amputee in the world that’s ever finished a half marathon. It was my tagline. I was proud of it. Let me blaze the trail. Other women will do it.
I think it was 2014, Tim's like, “I'm tired of you saying that. You need to run a marathon.” I'm like, “What? No. No, no, no. That's double the training and the time.” He's like, “Yeah.” He's like, “And I think you should run Boston. I think you should do it in honor of the survivors of the bombing from 2013.” At this time, I had developed a friendship with a couple of women in particular that had gone through that and have become survivors. Now, they're part of my family, especially one in particular.
I've met many amputees and many women across the world, probably like you trace careers. Sometimes you mesh this, and sometimes it's okay to just be distant business associates. But this one woman in particular, Celeste Corcoran, who lost both her legs in the bombing in Boston, we've developed this amazing friendship.
When Tim pushed me to do this, I had to smack him a little bit and then I'm like, “Okay, let's conquer this. Let's really figure it out.” I did. I ran the Chicago Marathon in October of 2015. Again, I'm the first and only bilateral woman to ever run Chicago, and that qualified me for Boston. Another thing was, “Tim, you are my guide. You are my Sherpa. You are holding my hand in Boston.” That was the deal. Like, “If I'm doing this, you're doing it, too.”
It was great, because we actually were able to get his wife to come with us, too. The three of us were able to run Boston and oh, my gosh, Tracy. My running was off. My training was awful. My prosthetics didn't fit. I knew it was going to be tough. I just soaked up every moment of that seven-hour and 47 minutes I was on the course.
I stopped and jumped on a trampoline. Because why not? I just wanted to enjoy it. Because at the time, I didn't know what the future held, but I don't know if I would ever run another marathon. That's my crazy marathon story. It's all because of Tim. I love him for it. Because now, I can hold on to that being the first always. It's me. I hope there's other amputee women that are – there's one woman that ran New York after me, but she wound up walking and taking her running legs off. She's from Brazil, and it was really, really difficult, and she barely finished. But I know I'm the first and I'm so grateful for that.
I owe it to Tim. But oh, man. It was hard. The training was tough for the full. I was very strategic that Chicago was October, because I was teaching full-time. I had that whole summer to really build up my stamina, my training for Chicago. That was great. I wanted to run Chicago in 6:30 and I ran it in 6:27. I was really happy with my time.
[00:31:30] TH: Holy smokes. It took you seven hours.
[00:31:35] JM: And 47 minutes. Please don’t forget that.
[00:31:39] TH: How long would you have expected it to take? It would take me two days.
[00:31:46] JM: Going into Boston, like I said, my training was off. I had problems with my legs. I was working full-time. I knew my goal was to finish. I was very happy I finished. That was my ultimate goal. I started and I finished and I didn't fall down. I mean, having, I call Tim and his wife is Tina, I call them TNT, having T on one side and T on the other. Because they were the ones that really forced me to drink the Gatorade and to eat the gels. Because that's the other thing is when you're out there, you're like, “Do I want to keep eating?” You can't chew food. You have to fuel your body, because you're constantly losing electrolytes and you're sweating, and you're moving. I wanted to finish and that was my goal. I'm very happy with that.
[00:32:25] TH: You’re incredible. At the finish line, were people going nutso? Was there just a crazed crowd?
[00:32:34] JM: Yes, and no. I mean, it took me so long, the crowd had thinned out a lot. My parents were there, which was amazing. Then Celeste and her family were there. It was great, because my husband and Tim texted each other. When we came across Boylston Street on the last sprint, or the last quarter mile to the finish line. My husband knew we were coming. Tim did some footage, some video. Then Celeste Corcoran, my girlfriend who lost her legs from the bombing was there at the finish line.
The fact that she wanted to be there. I mean, this marathon changed the course of her life forever. I mean, her daughter had her femur artery cut. Everything that her family went through. There was her husband. He didn't know where his daughter was, and he had to use his own belt as a tourniquet for his wife. I mean, what they went through, and having her at the finish line to hold me and to hug me, like I can close my eyes and I can see that right now. That was pretty amazing to have that support. It was something I'll always be able to cherish for the rest of my life.
[00:33:37] TH: One of the things that I always wonder about runners, especially marathoners that are out there for such a long time, is what you mentioned earlier is your mindset. What's upstairs is what's stopping you from finishing, or completing, versus keeping you going. How would you say your life has been impacted and what have you taken from the running and overcoming? I mean, you're the first and you are the first bilateral amputee to complete Chicago and Boston. That's a massive, massive feat. I have to imagine, you're taking this training, your brains, mentality, your mindset, and you're bringing out to the world. What is that self-talk like?
[00:34:21] JM: Well, at that time, the self-talk was negative. Meaning that, I had to finish. like, “I got myself into this. I have no choice. Blisters, no blisters, prosthetic issues. There's no turning back.” I've always felt like, I read it once and I don't know if it was Muhammad Ali. I'm not sure. It was, “Pain is temporary. Quitting is forever.” I really put that in my mind. I really focused on that, that I can't quit. I could stop and I could fix my leg. I sweat a lot, so there's adjustments and different tricks and tips I've had to learn over the years.
My mindset was, and I attested that to my relationship with my grandfather, he was self-made. He started, I think, when he was 14 working in truck parts. Him and his partner developed the very first catalog for 18 wheelers. Now, it's like, I mean, he's been gone for almost 20 years, but I laugh, it's like, he developed a catalog. Now we have the Internet that's the catalogue. But I attested a lot of my mental stamina and strength from him.
After my accident when I lost my legs, I had a blood transfusion. I'm O positive blood type, which is rare, and it's hard to get. My grandfather's same blood. He was in his 70s, and they wouldn't take his blood and he, threw – excuse my French, a shit fit at the hospital. He was like, “My granddaughter has the same blood. She's getting my blood.” They took it. He didn't have leukemia at the time. They checked everything. I always say, I got Poppy's blood running through me. That's really what gave me the confidence to finish everything.
Having people with me. I mean, I ran Chicago with one of my best friends, Molly, who's a huge runner. I ran Boston with Tim and Tina. Having that support and being able to ask for help, really made a difference.
[00:36:07] TH: Tim, I think, mentioned that the viral video that you had, I think it was of you in Boston, got 2 million views in 24 hours. Is that right?
[00:36:15] JM: Yeah, it was amazing. It was just the cow horns and all the people, the noises coming down Boylston Street, and then coming across the finish line and just literally falling into Celeste’s arms and just like, “I did this.” I did it to show people and to show the world that what happened in Boston did not break us. Did not break us as a country. Here we are running this. I ran Boston three years later. It was 2016. It was still very fresh, what the city had been through, and the bombing.
People are still trying to recover emotionally and physically from what they had experienced. I was just so proud. I felt so fortunate that I could share that. I mean, running it was like, just screaming Boston Strong and slapping high-fives, and hugging people and just showing the world that you can do what you put your mind to. With a lot of hard work and a lot of dedication, you really can accomplish. And a lot of time. Don't beat yourself up for what you don't accomplish in a day. Your life is a marathon. It's not a sprint.
[00:37:17] TH: Right. So, one of the bigger challenges that you're facing right now is your cancer diagnosis. I know that that's a battle right now for you daily. Are you using what you've been able to do and overcome in that battle? Are you taking from what you've learned prior and applying it to how you're going about tackling this?
[00:37:43] JM: Yes, absolutely. I've also had to change. My first cancer diagnosis was five years ago. I was told at the time it was stage one, “No big deal. You'll get radiation.’ For some reason, my husband and I both were very hesitant about the word chemotherapy. Definitely guilty of being sucked in by society and how bad it is, and poison, poison poison. I always felt like I wasn't going to do chemotherapy.
I also had implants that were 10-years-old at the time in 2016. I was a little offended that the breast surgeon right away went to reconstruction. I'm like, “They’re boobs. I don't care. Take them out. I don't want them.” My husband and I had – and I'm grateful. I mean, I have a best friend is my husband. I met my soulmate. I'm one of those that really – We met at the bar, and I'm seven and a half years older than him, and we've been together for 25 years.
I think we're pretty solid. We joked about that. At the time I said, “What do you think, honey?” He’s like, “Well, they were fun. I had fun playing with them for 10 years, but your future and your health is more important.” We knew right away, I wanted nothing to do with reconstruction. I was told from the beginning, it was stage one, no big deal, etc. I do what they tell me and I have surgery. My implants were taken out. I had a lumpectomy. Going to start radiation within a couple of months.
I wound up meeting an oncologist. He did a scan, and they found a spot on my lung that he wanted to watch. A few months goes by, do another scan. Now, there's a spot and the lung spot was no big deal, but then there's a spot in my spine. They're like, “Oh, your breast cancer got out. You're now stage four, and you're probably going to die in six to 10 years.” This was 2017.
It had only been barely seven, eight months from my initial diagnosis. Tracy, I was so taken back. I could not believe. I did everything they told me. How could this happen? What did I do? What did I not do? I had to step back, and I had to really repurpose my life. Because now, technically being a stage four metastatic breast cancer patient, what is different? I've learned to be more accepting of others. I'm a big caregiver. It's always me taking care of everyone. I've learned through this breast cancer journey, when people want to help me and I'm like, “No, no. I'm fine. I don't need your help,” I'm denying them joy. I'm denying them that gift of helping me. They love me, so I can't do that.
I learned to be more accepting of others giving me help and opening my arms to it. Then also, I realized, there's this whole integrative, homeopathic world that I don't care if I live with metastatic breast cancer for the rest of my life, and I never achieve remission. As long as it's quiet, and I die of old age. Because all the other things I do keep my body healthy. I mean, when I look in the mirror, I'm like, “Oh, I'm a little pale. I'm on a chemotherapy pill. But either way, I got some muscles.” I feel good.
[00:40:35] TH: You look so good.
[00:40:36] JM: Thank you. That's what I want to focus on. Because if I get wrapped up into the technicality of this disease, and how intense it really can be, it's very scary. I won't go there. I also believe it's my body. I know it better than any doctor out there. I fired many of my doctors and I found many more, because I need a doctor that's not going to talk down to me, and that's going to embrace all my choices. I wound up, I mean, hence the hair. It's interesting, never having short hair, trying to figure out what to do with it. But it's okay. Got some curls.
[00:41:10] TH: It's cute.
[00:41:11] JM: Thanks. I love it. Actually, it's fun. It's really easy, not having to blow dry and curl and all that. That was a shock. I did go through, I had 14 rounds of IV chemo. I had to take off work. I went through that. Then, I had another scan and my doctor was like, “I want to do more.” I'm like, “Nope, I'm done. I can't do any more. No.” I found a new oncologist, and now I'm on an oral chemo pill, which is really tough. The IV chemo was actually easier, because I went every two weeks, and it gave my body a chance to detox and get the medicine out. Now, I'm constantly rotating, taking this medicine, so it's always in my body. But I feel good. I know it's working. I'm just learning to embrace the small stuff. I'm thinking about, what is it? The Four Agreements. Miguel Ruiz.
[00:41:57] TH: Yes. Of course.
[00:41:58] JM: I mean, I have that book by my bedside. Sometimes, I just reflect back on it, because your words have intention. What you put out into the world will come back to you. I believe cancer is, it's a metabolic disease. It's something I'm going to learn to live with, but it's not a death sentence. I was so mortified by that one doctor who, once you’re diagnosed stage four. It's like, “Screw you. How dare you just look on this chart and just jumble me in with all those people and this data? That's not me.”
I survived on that mountain 30 years ago, because God's not done with me yet. I got a lot more work to do. This whole metastatic breast cancer thing, it's just another opportunity to give me a platform to basically, show people that you need chemo, but you also need an IV of vitamin C to deter the chemotherapy side effects. You also need to juice and you need to walk and you need to clear your mind. I never realized how important self-care was, until I got cancer.
I mean, even running marathons and working full-time, I was always on the bottom of the totem pole. My kids, life, everything came first and cancer was like, nope. You need to turn that around. I've learned, and I say no. I think no can be very powerful.
[00:43:15] TH: One of the things that blew me away when I first met you, and this is a perfect example of your tenacity and resilience is, we're in the midst of COVID, you're undergoing chemotherapy, intense. You're stage four, and you're like, “Yeah, I'm here today teaching school.” What grade are you teaching?
[00:43:33] JM: I'm actually out on medical again, but I was teaching kindergarten.
[00:43:37] TH: You were in kindergarten. You were in the class.
[00:43:39] JM: Yeah.
[00:43:40] TH: I said, “Jami, isn't this like –” These little kindergarteners. I mean, you send them to school, they're like walking flu bugs.
[00:43:47] JM: Yeah, they’re germ factories. Yeah.
[00:43:48] TH: They’re germ factories. Here you are in the class.
[00:43:53] JM: Yeah, all the time. I need to work part-time. I need to be realistic with myself. I'm in so much treatment right now. Majority of it is holistic and integrative, so it keeps me healthy and strong. I am napping here and there, and I need to listen to my body. I couldn't go to part-time and my new oncologist is like, “You need to back off. You need to be realistic.” It was very heartbreaking to walk away from my job again.
If I'm not healthy, I can't be a good teacher. I also have to be realistic, because COVID stinks, and it's changed the world. I don't know if I'll be able to go back to education. I'm hoping I can. I mean, I'm scheduled. I will go back in March and finish out the year, but I have to be realistic about where I'm at with my health. That breaks my heart, because I've been teaching for almost 11 years and I got into it late in life and I've always wanted to do it.
I went to night school for a year when my daughter was four, to earn my credential, but I'm okay with it. I talked about and I didn't cry. The fact that I'm moving in that direction. Change is scary but when one door closes, another door opens. I have to be realistic. If I want to be around for a long time and be a grandma, which is my ultimate goal. I want to get that white picket fence and my husband and I are just going to rock it together. He'll be my rock. I need to be realistic about my career choice and teaching just might not happen again. I'm okay with that, because I can still teach and mentor in so many other ways.
[00:45:15] TH: You can. I think you need to also just credit yourself for a second with the mindset, powerhouse mindset that you have of just making an impact. It's like, I'm sure it took you a long road to finally acquiesce and say, “Okay, I'm going to back off, this going to work every day and teaching kindergarten germ factories, cute kids, but I've got to also recognize that I'm a human being. I've got to take care of myself and put myself first.” It was, when I first met you, it just impressed upon me how nothing stops you. Nothing stops you. You're like a freight train. You're like, “I'm going to keep on going.”
[00:45:54] JM: You have to. I feel like I owe it to God. I owe it to my grandfather. I mean, my life was saved on that mountain. I feel like, I'm still here. If I'm able to get up in the morning and put my prosthetics on, then I need to do what I need to do. Every morning, when I wake up, I try and do a 5 to 10 minute, whatever it is, regimen, schedule. It’s always because of cancer. Cancer has given me this gift of gratitude. Because before, it's like, the glass was half empty. I would complain about this, that or the other. Now it's like, “Oh, no, no, no.” I get to wake up and I get to write in my journal. I get to lay on my pense mat. I get to go to treatment.
Sometimes, you know how living in LA, I mean, took me two hours and 10 minutes to get from Huntington Beach to Santa Monica the other day for treatment. It was stressful. But also in the car, I'm listening to podcasts. I'm listening to you. I'm also really grounding myself and reminding myself that this is a gift. My treatment is a gift. I'm very fortunate that I can do it. I'm still cursing and stressed about the cars and the driving, but I do.
I've learned through this cancer journey to not be so hard on myself. If I'm tired, and I want a nap, I take a nap. If my teenagers are beyond obnoxious, I'm going to get in their face and tell them, “This is not okay.” Our lives have changed a lot. My father-in-law was diagnosed with small cell lung cancer three years ago, and he died within 18 months. That makes me more emotional than anything, because he was such a huge part of our life. I still can't believe he's gone. He passed away in May of 2020, May 10th. I've never been with someone that's ever passed.
We were in the hospital. Another she-God moment, I mean, May of 2020, COVID is insane. I mean, I don’t even think there's a vaccine at that point. My father-in-law had gone in and out of the hospital multiple times. This last time, we got to go in the hospital. My husband spent the last three nights of his life in the hospital with his father. His girlfriend was able to spend the last two nights with him.
The fact that we were able to go in and be with him and say goodbye to him, I mean, that's another reason why I have to power through, because he's gone. I need to make the world of cancer a better place for all that are suffering from it. Because I believe, it's more and more and more. Everywhere you look, I mean, whether you want to blame the food, or the environment, or your mindset, or your own metabolic terrain, whatever it is, unfortunately, cancer is becoming a word that even two-year-olds know. That's heartbreaking to me.
I really believe that will be my next mission, my next purpose is to show that cancer is not a death sentence. It's just another terminal illness, that you have to learn how to live with and have to learn how to juggle in life.
[00:48:37] TH: You're amazing.
[00:48:38] JM: And work with those crazy voices in your head. Get them to be quiet. I journal that. And I find that journaling has really helped me calm things down in my mind, and taking the time to meditate. Not oh, rush, rush, rush, hurry all the time. Taking 5 or 10 minutes to just have peace in your mind. Those are things I never did before cancer, that I'm learning to embrace. They've given me strength and power as a young woman fighting this terrible disease.
[00:49:05] TH: Yeah. I think, gosh. I don't know if you've considered writing a book.
[00:49:08] JM: Well, I wrote one.
[00:49:10] TH: What is it?
[00:49:11] JM: Do you have my book?
[00:49:12] TH: I don't.
[00:49:12] JM: Oh, here. Let me grab it. It's right behind me. Oh, I need to send you a copy. Hold on one sec. Oh, my gosh. I'm totally embarrassed. I thought Tim gave you a copy or you had a copy, I would have sent you one.
[00:49:22] TH: No. I'm so glad you're an author. Tell me what the book’s called.
[00:49:26] JM: Okay, so this – See, this came out in 2001. Andrea Cagan, who was my co-author, who's a local lady in LA, has done a ton of books. She worked with Marianne Williamson. Who's the guy that invented the spin bike? Jimmy something. She worked with Kenny Loggins. Andrea’s amazing. Remember Where You Were, in September of 2001.
I'm going on this book tour across the country and 9/11 happens. I'm like, “I don't want to get on a plane.” It's October now. I don't want to go on a book tour. No one's coming. No, no.
Simon and Schuster is like, “No, no. You're going.” Nobody came. It was awful. I will say, I am beyond proud of this book. It reads amazing. I've had people email me and say, “I can't put it down. I read it in a day.” It basically starts with the accident, getting lost, going through the trial, and then ending with my marriage.
[00:50:18] TH: Wow.
[00:50:19] JM: I'm super proud of it. It's amazing. It did kind of die in the world. This was really cool. This happened. This is a kids reader book. This came out in 2006, and it’s in the education system.
[00:50:33] TH: Beautiful.
[00:50:34] JM: It's really fun. I mean, this came out before I went to teaching. It has an index, and just fun things for kids, like a timeline. Super proud of it. I've been approached a couple times through the cancer journey about running and children, or even, “How are you an amputee and being pregnant? How do you balance that?” Maybe a second book will happen someday. You never know.
[00:50:52] TH: Or, you could do a foreword and republish the first one.
[00:50:57] JM: I thought about that, but Simon and Schuster wants basically, my home and my firstborn to buy the rights back from them. I'm not doing that. Because I feel like they didn't market it correctly. They let it die in the world. Now, if you order it on Amazon, you get the crappiest paperback that you can see it was printed two weeks before at Kinkos. It's a slap in the face. I can't. Bit I would love to have that opportunity. Like I said, it's an insane amount of money they want for the rights. It's like, why? The book’s not really selling. It's barely on Amazon. You would think you would want me to just move on.
[00:51:33] TH: Yeah. I’m surprised.
[00:51:34] JM: It was fun doing that, especially when Andrea and I wrote it, it was 2001. The Internet was still trying to figure itself out. We actually would sit and record, tape recording. She would tape record me. Then she would send the manuscripts and I would get the red pen out and work that way. I love going back old school and really delving into the details of becoming an author.
[00:51:57] TH: You're incredible. Well, what an honor to hear your story. I'm so in awe of everything you've done and what an incredible life you've led. What a teacher you are to all of us. I mean, you really are representative to me of just a true powerhouse. I mean, in every sense of the word.
One of the things that I always try and listen to is my self-talk. I spent about 110 days cold-plunging. 110 days in a row, getting into 45 or 40-degree water. I did that October through December of last year into early January. I did it, because what I recognize is every single day I get up at 6 to go cold plunge, I would listen to myself talk, tell me all the reasons why I should be resistant and not do something.
I found the excavation of the self-talk, or the person inside my head, all of the excuses, all of the reasons why something's not possible, all of the reasons why it's not good for me, “Today's a bad day. It's too cold out. It's windy. It's rainy. It's sunny.” It doesn't matter.
[00:53:08] JM: Totally.
[00:53:10] TH: How often, and as I continue to purposely go through that experience, because I wanted to test the point in which I could overcome the urge to succumb to the self-talk and overcome it, and what was the pivotal point, or what was the tipping point? At certain times, I would say, it was just sheer will, right? Just like, “Damn it. I'm not going to let this thing beat me. I'm going to go cold plunge.” Then after I would do it, I felt so good. I just kept thinking, “Gosh, I wonder why I undermine myself? Where is this coming from? Who is this voice?” I think, Michael Singer says, in The Untethered Soul, he talks about the renter in your head, who's living there, but not paying rent.
[00:53:55] JM: Exactly. Yeah.
[00:53:56] TH: That feels so familiar, I'm sure to every single person listening. It's like, if there's a takeaway for me in listening to your story, listening to your journey, and just how purposely you've been in the world on all of these really difficult experiences is how you just, every single time it gets scary, you and fearful you overcome it. You just push through it.
[00:54:19] JM: I think you have to. I also think, you have to be realistic, and there's a lot of sadness. If I'm sad, I'm going to embrace it. I'm going to cry. I'm going to get mad. I've screamed at God many times. It's like, “You saved me on that mountain and now you give me cancer? Then you give me metastatic cancer? What are you doing to me?” It's like, okay, stop. Think about it, and move on. Because like I said, I get to get up and put my legs on and have a good day. Like you, those voices up there, the renter, you just want to squash. You keep quiet.
[00:54:51] TH: Yeah. I think, a lot of those who are listening today, I can't wait to put your video up, so people can see you crossing that finish line in Boston. It's like, a body tingle moment. It's so good.
[00:55:06] JM: Thank you.
[00:55:07] TH: Thank you so much for sharing.
[00:55:07] JM: Thank you. I really enjoyed talking to you. Yeah. I really enjoyed it. Thank you for sharing with your audience, and just thank you for being you. You are the epitome of a strong woman who has never given up and really power through what life has to offer. That's why I feel like leaving teaching is scary, but it's time. I'm ready for the next journey to begin.
[00:55:26] TH: Right. Well, I honor you and I can't wait to continue to watch what you do next and how you help the world, because you're making a difference.
[00:55:35] JM: I appreciate it. Thank you so much, Tracy.
[00:55:37] TH: Okay.
[00:55:38] JM: All right.
[00:55:38] Thank you.
[00:55:39] JM: Take care, everyone.
[00:55:39] TH: Have a great day. Bye-bye.
[00:55:40] JM: All right. Bye-bye.
[00:55:41] TH: Bye.
[00:55:45] ANNOUNCER: Thank you for tuning in to From Potential to Powerhouse: Success Secrets for Female Leaders, with your host, Tracy Holland. We invite you to tune in every week. Subscribe to our podcast, so you don't miss a single episode. While you're at it, please leave a rating and review it and share it with your friends. Visit our website and follow us on social media using the links in the show notes. Until next time, high-five. You've got this.
Join the Powerhouse Movement!
Connect with other female entrepreneurs in our Potential to Powerhouse Community on Facebook.