Katy Sullivan sets new American record at London Paralympics

LONDON - People across Southern California tuned in to their computers and mobile devices at 12:49 p.m. Wednesday to watch live streaming video of the Paralympic Games Women's 100-meter dash. They were following the final act in the Paralympic quest of Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center patient and Paralympian Katy Sullivan.

In Downey, for example, Mia Vasquez was watching at Saywell Florist on Paramount Boulevard. Across the street at Pacific Western Bank, Jan Scott saw Katy stride to the starting line. A mile away at Ad-De-Pro on Phlox Street, Beverly Mathis tuned in seconds before the start. And at Rancho, staff members had their iPads, iPhones and computers turned to Paralympics.org to view the race live.

In downtown Los Angeles, Don Knabe and his staff were cheering Katie as she stood at the starting line. And in the sold-out Olympic Stadium half a world away in London, 80,000 people including Rancho Chief Medical Officer roared as the gun went off and the 100-meter dash in classification T42 began.

But while her Paralympic race would be over in a matter of seconds, Katy's Paralympic journey actually began seven years ago. Born without legs from the knees down, she had always wanted to run, but never could. Then at age 25, she decided to give it a try with prosthetic legs, with disastrous results. Katy wrenched her back so badly she ended up at Rancho for Rehabilitation. While it seemed to be a major negative, it turned out to be one of the biggest breaks of her life, and the genesis of a dream.

At Rancho, Katy was treated by physical therapist Julie Kasayama. Julie spent six weeks on her own time after work, teaching Katy to walk, then run, with advanced prosthetics...first at Rancho, then across the street at Apollo Park. She could have hardly imagined that she would someday be running for glory in another hemisphere.

Katy built her Paralympic future literally one step at a time, with the help of caring clinicians from Rancho and experts from Hanger Prosthetics, Five years ago, she set a world record at 200 meters for her T42 classification. She seemed a lock to make the U.S. team for the Beijing Paralympic Games in 2008, until an injury eliminated that possibility.

Could she keep her edge for four more years and make the U.S. Paralympic team for the London games in 2012 at age 32? Katy decided to continue her quest. A noted actor, Katy continued to work while maintaining her training regimen. And then she fell in love with and married fellow Rancho patient and fellow actor Jay Cramer, who was becoming a terrific standup comedian.

Katy never wavered. She made it to the 2012 U.S. Paralympic finals in the 100 meters (the 200 is not run in her classification at the Paralympics). Even though she stumbled at the start, she bravely fought back from a deficit of more than 10 yards and rallied to win the U.S. Paralympic championship...and a spot at the Paralympic Games in London.

Her story captured the hearts of people everywhere...and individuals, organizations, foundations and Supervisor Knabe joined to donate more than $15,000 so that she and Jay could attend the Paralympics together. One story about Katy in The Downey Patriot had more than 17,000 online views...the all-time record in the history of the newspaper. Clearly, the community was behind her.

And so as the gun went off in the 100-meter dash in London, Katy raced toward history. Although she was not in medal contention, she fought as hard as she could with every stride in the hopes of setting a new personal best. In the last 40 yards, she passed elite runners from France, The Netherlands and Poland.

Katy finished sixth in the race, where a new world record of 15.87 seconds was set by gold medalist Martina Caironi of Italy. Kelly Cartwright of Australia won the silver medal and the bronze medal went to Jana Schmidt of Germany.

When the final times were listed on the giant Olympic Stadium scoreboard, Katy's time was 17.33 seconds. It was not only a personal best...it was also a new American record!

Katy was all smiles. And back home, phone calls, tweets, emails and text and Facebook messages were flying as Katy's fans rushed to talk to one another about her Paralympic quest.

Supervisor Knabe emailed, "Way to go Katy! Great race! Strong Finish! We are so proud of you! Way to break your record!"

"What an experience!" Dr. Aisen said. "Being in the stadium for Katy's race was simply amazing. She is a true Rancho miracle!"

"She has touched so many lives throughout this process," Beverly Mathis said. "It was wonderful to see how the community supported her. America couldn't ask for a better representative for our country than Katy."

"Katy carried the hopes and dreams of people at Rancho and across the community with her, and we are so proud of her incredible performance in London," said Rancho Chief Executive Officer Jorge Orozco.

After her race, Katy sent a Facebook message to her friends and fans assessing the finish of her Paralympic quest: "A new American record, sixth in the world and the second-fasted bilateral above-the-knee amputee in the world. Priceless!"

********** Published: September 6, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 21