Meanwhile, in the gym on the fifth floor of the Sheraton Boston Hotel, one podium finisher took to the treadmill—and stayed there, for five and a half hours, running and walking another 26.2 miles.
Jacky Hunt-Broersma, 46, might have crossed the line on Boylston Street the day before in 5:05:13, claiming third place among women in the Para Athletics division for runners with lower limb prostheses. But she won’t truly finish until this Saturday, April 30, when she completes her 104th marathon-distance run in as many days—breaking a world record, with a few extra days for good measure.
Boston represented marathon number 92 in her quest, which began on January 17. As she racks up the miles—all 2,724.28 of them—Hunt-Broersma is raising money for Amputee Blade Runners, which provides prosthetics to other current and aspiring athletes.
And, she hopes she’s resetting expectations for amputees, cancer survivors, and anyone else who might doubt their own potential. “We’re capable of more than what we think,” she said.
A late-blooming athlete
Hunt-Broersma was 26 when a spot of scar tissue on her leg grew into a golf ball-sized tumor. She was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma, a rare cancer that forms in bones or the soft tissue around them.
Preventing the spread of the disease meant amputating her left leg not far below the knee, doctors told her. Within weeks, she was in surgery.
Before her amputation, Hunt-Broersma wasn’t athletic. Even as a kid in South Africa, she’d hide on days when running was a part of gym class. But after watching her husband, Edwin Broersma, run marathons a few years ago, she decided she wanted to try, too.
While starting out in the sport is straightforward for many, amputees face more obstacles. Typical walking legs aren’t designed for faster motion. Blades meant for running can cost $10,000 or more and aren’t usually covered by insurance.
Hunt-Broersma made the investment and completed her first 5K in 2016. In that moment, something clicked. “Doing something I didn’t think I would be doing—there was just a sense of freedom,” she said.
Soon, she was pushing past the limits of what others—including her doctors and husband—thought possible. “I’m a person that likes to go step by step—5K, 10K, half marathon. You sort of build yourself up,” Edwin said. “I learned early on that Jacky isn’t like that.”
After a successful 5K, she signed up for a 10K. When she went to pick up her packet, she upgraded to the half marathon. “I was like, you can’t do that—you haven’t trained for it,” Edwin said. “But she smashed that half marathon; she did so well.”
Since then, she’s sought to find the boundaries of what her body—and her Fillauer Obsidian running blade—could do. She moved quickly from marathons to ultras, has completed 100 miles on a treadmill, and was the first female amputee to compete in the TransRockies Run, a multi-day stage race in Colorado.
And step by step, race by race, running transformed Hunt-Broersma. She’d once hid her prosthesis from others, wearing only long pants, and could hardly bear to look in the mirror. Now, Edwin can’t remember the last time he’s seen her in anything but shorts.
Her altered perspective is summed up on one of her favorite T-shirts: the word “disABILITY” is spelled out in white letters on a black background, with a red “x” over the “dis.” (Another, which underscores her sense of humor, reads “A zombie chewed it off.”)
“Running helped me accept that I was an amputee, showed me what I can achieve and how strong I can be,” she said. Supporting an organization that provides blades to others, including children, motivates her. So far, she’s raised upwards of $23,000, more than the cost of two blades, and her total is likely to continue climbing.
Setting the goal
What was originally a 100-day challenge came about when she saw social-media posts highlighting Alyssa Clark’s 2020 record of 95 marathons in 95 days. “I was intrigued; I didn’t know that there was a record like that,” Hunt-Broersma said. “I thought, ‘Oh, maybe I could do it.’” The idea of rounding the total off to 100 resonated.
It wasn’t long before she was filing the extensive paperwork required by the Guinness Book of World Records to begin. Only then did she approach her husband about the plan.
Edwin, who’s an ultrarunner himself as well as Hunt-Broersma’s coach, took it in stride. “If anybody can do it, it’s Jacky,” he said. “She’s got the mental capacity. And that’s mostly what you need for these challenges, is mental strength.”
That, and some planning and logistics. Weekdays, she’ll get her two kids—age 9 and 11—off to school, then start her run. On the weekends, Edwin does his own run early, then tag-teams back so the kids aren’t home alone.
Hunt-Broersma has run most of her miles along two main loops. One stretches 1.6 miles around her Gilbert, Arizona, home; the other, slightly more than a half-mile around her kids’ school. That way, she can leave water and fuel—mostly boiled potatoes and Spring energy gels—in a central location, and not worry too much about where she’s going.
Sure, it’s monotonous, but Hunt-Broersma doesn’t mind. Usually, she runs alone, listening to podcasts or admiring the scenery. On the schoolyard route, students wave and cheer. Some weekends, her 9-year-old daughter jogs along for a few miles in her pajamas, chatting and singing.
Other days, she’ll take to the treadmill, which softens the pounding on her stump and offers a respite from Arizona’s sometimes brutal heat. She’ll pass the time watching comedies or interactive treadmill workouts—for instance, reliving the course of her first-ever marathon, Chicago, which she completed in 2017.
Hunt-Broersma doesn’t worry about the pace, letting her body guide her. Her fastest time at the marathon distance is just over four hours, but most of the consecutive runs have averaged between four and a half and six hours.
Peaks and valleys
Perhaps because of the more relaxed pace, her body—and blade—have held up better than Hunt-Broersma expected. Around day five or six, she got shin splints—fortunately, they resolved quickly.
By around day 40, her energy dipped, and she and Edwin pinpointed nutrition as the issue. Because every meal serves the dual purpose of recovery from the last run and preparation for the next one, Hunt-Broersma quickly realized that she had to eat strategically.
So she revamped her diet, adding more protein to rebuild muscles and high-quality carbs to replenish her fuel stores—oatmeal with raisins and bananas before she starts; yogurt and a Tailwind recovery drink as soon as she finishes; dinners like rice and black beans with avocado, corn, salsa, and chicken.
At night, her stump cramps; sometimes, swelling shifts her fibula or calf bone out of place, causing painful friction against her prosthesis. She uses a foam roller and ice, then sleeps in a compression sleeve. If pain wakes her up, she massages her stump, gently easing the bones back into place.
The swelling has also required her to switch to an older blade with a looser-fitting socket. On the 100th day, the tread came off at around mile 10. She called Edwin, who brought her superglue. She switched to her walking leg while it dried, then continued.
But true to Edwin’s prediction, the biggest burden has indeed been psychological. Often, Hunt-Broersma wakes up tired and unmotivated. Around mile 15 of day 72, she had what she calls an “emotional breakdown,” questioning her purpose and whether she could continue.
She took a deep breath, focused on the next mile, and before she knew it, had completed all 26.2.
Much to her surprise, she woke up the next morning feeling upbeat and refreshed. “It’s a bit of a roller coaster,” she said. “I’ve learned now to kind of embrace the bad days, and just know that tomorrow will probably be a better day.”
The Boston Marathon, the only organized course she completed in the challenge, marked one of the high points. Edwin and the kids stayed behind for state testing at school, so Hunt-Broersma’s friend and running partner from North Carolina, Rachel Zelibor, went along as her support runner.
Together, the pair navigated Saturday and Sunday shakeout runs—both marathon-length, of course—around the streets of Boston and the Charles River, where admiring fans sometimes stopped Hunt-Broersma for photos.
On race day, Zelibor acted as a buffer, preventing Hunt-Broersma from getting jostled by runners around her—and from stopping for too many more selfies along the course. And between miles 21 and 22, she encouraged Hunt-Broersma to pick up the pace and pass Adrianne Haslet and her support runner Shalane Flanagan to clinch third in their division.
Though she was proud of her friend’s ability to dig deep and compete, the moment was less about besting someone else and more about elevating everyone. “She’s bringing para athletes to the forefront,” Zelibor said. “To meet the other women running in that division was amazing.”
Hunt-Broersma would have loved to make Boston her final run, but the timing didn’t align from the start. And then, on day 86, the finish line shifted. Another runner—Britain’s Kate Jayden, who, like Clark, has two legs—broke the record first, completing 101 marathons in 101 days.
Hunt-Broersma was undeterred. “Obviously, I’m going to keep going,” she wrote on Instagram, and set a new target of 102. She still celebrated that run, as the official record-breaking event, but also decided to add a cushion—hence the 104 total.
The shift also allows her to do her final run on the weekend, so more people can tag along. She’ll start Saturday morning at 8 a.m. at a park in nearby Chandler, aiming to finish around 1 or 2 p.m., and has openly invited her social media followers to join her.
And the next day, and the day after that? She’ll likely rest, and eat, and respond to plenty of well wishes on social media. Soon, she’ll start the work of compiling the photos, testimonies, and GPS files required for Guinness to ratify her record. Plus, her family will go away for at least a weekend—she promised them—with no running on the agenda.
But before long, she’ll be back training again, to complete some unfinished business. Last year, she started the Moab 240-mile race but was unable to complete it. She missed the checkpoint at mile 60; it was raining, and her blade had no grip on the wet rocks. In October, she’ll head back for vengeance—and with a literally unprecedented base of endurance and mental strength built up.
This time, when she hits a rough patch, she’ll have an even larger box of tools to draw from, techniques that got her through the bumps of her record-breaking challenge: The mantra “I can do hard things.” Notes from cancer survivors and people inspired to run, for the first time or again after a long time, by watching her. Gratitude for the sunshine, the road beneath her, and life itself. “Sometimes it’s really hard … but you’re doing stuff other people might not be able to do,” she said. “You just kind of keep going.”