Sprinting Beyond Her Disability

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jami Goldman never took sports very seriously, until 10 years ago.

That's when she lost both her legs, amputated six inches below her knees because of frostbite.

"In life you have a choice," said Goldman, 29, who lives in Huntington Beach. "You can be stuck where you are or you can try to do something."

Last month, she did something. Goldman set the national record in the 200 meters at the Orthotics and Prosthetics National games at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

Her time of 41.81 seconds earned Goldman a place on the U.S. national team that will compete next month at the World Games in England.

"[Representing the United States] is amazing," Goldman said. "I worked so hard for this and I'm so thankful to the people that helped me."

Wearing a gold medal was the last thing Goldman was thinking about in 1987, when she spent 10 winter days and nights lost in the Rocky Mountains.

Two days before Christmas, Goldman, then 19 and living in Scottsdale, Ariz., and her friend, Lisa Barzano, were driving back from a ski trip in New Mexico when they became lost in northern Arizona.

They wound up on a back road in a region of the Rockies that had been closed to traffic shortly after they entered because of an impending snow storm.

"I just couldn't understand why no one could find us," Goldman said. "We got lost on a Wednesday and it didn't stop snowing until Saturday. We tried to walk to safety once, but Lisa collapsed after 30 feet and I had to carry her back to the car."

Over the next week, the two survived on peanuts, a sweet roll and melted snow before they were found by a snowmobiler.

The women were hospitalized and treated for severely frostbitten feet.

Barzano had a fractured foot and lost a toe to frostbite. Goldman's condition was much worse, and she wasn't improving. She had developed gangrene, and doctors asked her permission to amputate her legs.

"All I was worried about was getting better," she said. "I was just so happy to be alive."

Jason Goldman, Jami's 27-year-old brother who lives in Century City, watched every amazing step of his sister's recovery.

"I can't compare what she has had to overcome to anything I have ever gone through," he said. "She has this attitude that she is going to do what she wants and no one will stop her."

Goldman said it was relatively easy to get used to her prosthetic feet, but she did not enjoy the constant visits to her doctor, which she found tedious. She was determined not to allow her misfortune to hold her back.

She graduated from Arizona State in 1992 with a degree in communications, and then enrolled at Long Beach State. While working on her master's degree in child development, she was an intern at the college's preschool.

"The school ordered a special doll that was missing a leg," Goldman said. "I explained to the kids the doll was like me and what it was like [to have a prosthetic leg]. Afterward, all the kids wanted to play with the doll."

Goldman is more than happy to teach people about prosthetics. Their only drawback? She is no longer able to wear high-heeled shoes.

"I live in an able-bodied world," Goldman said. "If it wasn't for the meets, I don't know where I would meet others with prosthetics. I met three or four girls with prosthetic legs at my last meet in Virginia, and you could tell they were so happy to see athletes like them."

Last year, during one of her routine prosthetic checkups, Goldman's doctor suggested she start incorporating running in her fitness regimen to help her control her weight.

"With my prosthetics, a weight fluctuation of even five pounds can affect the way my feet will fit," Goldman said. "I just started running by calling a friend and going through some sprint drills."

Goldman also needed to purchase prosthetic running feet. The ones she wears on a daily basis are heavier than the ones she wears for running, which are made of lighter carbon-based materials and have added cushioning.

"It's like being on your toes all the time," Goldman said. "Running hard jolts my whole body and you have to learn to maintain balance."

In her first competition, the Ultimate Challenge Track and Field Invitational in Chula Vista, she finished fourth in the 100-yard dash, and came within .02 seconds of a U.S. record.

"I didn't see my time, but I just cried when I finished the race," Goldman said. "I felt this sense of accomplishment."

Her initial success has driven Goldman even harder. In addition to working on her running technique at Huntington Beach High's track three to four times a week, she also has hired personal trainer Mark Thomas to push her in the weight room.

"She is dedicated for the entire hour and a half we work," Thomas said. "She even takes the stairs instead of the elevator."

She has put her teaching career on hold to pursue her athletic dreams, and will leave this month to attend the U.S. team's training camp in Chula Vista before heading to the World Games.

While Goldman hopes for gold in England, she has her eyes on the Sydney Paralympic Games in 2000. "[Getting gold at Sydney] would be the best," she said.

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