Jamie Watts tends not to run with the pack. Armed with a cane, she steadily makes her way to the finish line, often after everyone else has finished the race. But she’s far from alone.
Born with cerebral palsy, Watts decided to run 34 races in the year before her 34th birthday. “Balance and coordination are significant issues for me,” Watts, who lives near Washington, D.C., wrote in a recent blog post. “I lost oxygen at birth and the part of my brain that controls certain motor functions was damaged. Messages from that part of my brain do not reach my legs as they should.”
It could take several hours for her to finish a race. She occasionally fell. Yet she finished each one and kept going, and by the time her 34th birthday rolled around last year, Watts had finished not 34 but 40 races.
Her determination has inspired fellow runners, friends, and a local retailer, Pacers Running, which organizes races in the D.C. area. The company set earlier start times for her at events to meet road-closure restrictions and provided an escort to ensure her safety.
“To have that finisher experience, there’s nothing like that,” Watts says:
Faces of Pacers: Jamie Watts Faces of Pacers: Jamie Watts
Her 34th race was her longest yet: A 10-mile stretch in April 2015 at the George Washington Parkway Classic. Between miles seven and eight, Watts says, she began to hit a wall: “I started to think, ‘I am not sure I have this.’”
But then she spotted a friend who had flown in from Austin to surprise her on the course. It was just what she needed to power through to the finish line. “I hugged her tighter than I ever have before and kept repeating, ‘I am so glad you are here,’” Watts says. “It truly was one of the best things that ever happened to me in my whole life.”
Watts completed the race at six hours and 32 minutes, welcomed by a cheering crowd. “Fast is faster than you were yesterday,” she told Washingtonian magazine.
She says people ask her whether she says to herself, why me. “I find this such an odd question,” Watts writes. “If I did not have my disability, I would be missing a huge part of what makes me the person I am.”
Having reached her goal, Watts went on to pursue new ones. After the 40 races by age 34, she went on to do another 36, according to the Washingtonian, and in May ran a half-marathon over seven hours and 53 minutes.
“Running allows me to leverage the ability that I have,” she says. “I can train every day, but if I do not have the chance to race, it is a lost opportunity.”