Sunday’s Surf City Marathon was almost everything that Huntington Beach runner Jami Marseilles could have dreamed of. A picturesque backdrop and great weather made for ideal conditions for a half marathon.
Her one gripe connected with the event, which she is using as a warm-up for the Boston Marathon in April, actually had nothing to do with the race itself.
Marseilles, 47, is a double amputee who has to wear special prosthetics that allow her to run. However, the prostheses she used during Sunday’s run caused her pain, leading to her taking more breaks than usual so she could make adjustments.
“We still got a little bit of work to get these dialed in for Boston,” she said, noting that she clocked herself at just over 13 minutes per mile, excluding the stops.
On Dec. 23, 1987, Marseilles, who was 19 at the time, was headed home to Arizona with a friend after a ski trip to New Mexico. However, they got caught in a blizzard while driving through the Grand Canyon State, became lost, hit a snow bank and stalled their Chevrolet Blazer.
The two tried to look for help on foot, but ultimately opted to take shelter in the SUV in hopes that help would find them.
They stayed in the Chevy for 11 days, surviving on nothing but cinnamon rolls and melted snow.
“By the time they found us on Jan. 2, 1988, we had frostbite on all our extremities — my hands, my nose, my ears and my feet,” Marseilles said.
She eventually recovered, except for her legs, which had to be amputated a few inches below each knee to save her from gangrene.
Since then, Marseilles has worn prostheses to remain mobile. Doctors told her she would need to exercise to stay healthy, so she joined a gym and started working out.
In 1996, a video of the Paralympic Games caught her attention.
“I saw these amputees running in an Olympic-caliber event on these prosthetic legs that had no feet,” she said. “They looked like a spring.”
That was the year Marseilles chose running as her sport. She ran for the U.S. Paralympics team for four years and then switched to distance running in 2000.
Marseilles has run in four half-marathons and numerous 5K and 10K events, participated in a triathlon and recently completed her first full marathon, the Chicago Marathon in October.
“I’ve never looked back since,” she said. “I can’t imagine my life without running.”
Now Marseilles has her sights set on her second full marathon, in Boston. When she is not running on the trails along Pacific Coast Highway, she trains at UltraFit Bootcamp gym on Yorktown Avenue near Brookhurst Street.
Mike Cahl, owner of UltraFit, has been training Marseilles for about a year, helping her strengthen her body so she can complete a half or full marathon.
“She’s a big inspiration to a lot of people here,” said the master trainer. “When she walks in, everybody works harder. She really sets a tone for everyone else.”
Cahl has run seven marathons, including the Los Angeles and San Diego marathons, and understands the amount of strength and endurance needed to complete a long-distance run.
Though Marseilles has to wear prosthetics, Cahl doesn’t coddle her.
“She’s a hard worker and she’s willing to try new things,” he said. “She’s a go-getter and she’ll just dive right in and get stronger and stronger. I don’t cut her any slack, and I work her out just as hard as the next person.”