Leading by Example at the Back of the Pack

by Melissa Brunner

While it was impressive to see the awesome performances turned in by Saturday's top finishers at the Sunflower State Games 5K and 10K run, perhaps the most inspiring story was unfolding at the back of the 10K pack.

We introduced our 13 News viewers to Julie Vandervoort Boyett back in October 2007. Two months earlier, she'd been in a car wreck. The vehicle rolled. Julie was ejected and her legs became pinned, trapping her under the still-running car's burning-hot exhaust for an hour. Julie, a former high school cross country runner, lost one of her legs at the knee and severely burned the other. In those first two months, she underwent more than a dozen surgeries. I met Julie right after she returned home from the hospital and her family was struggling to pay for medical bills and, eventually, a prosthetic leg.

Right after the story aired, another gentleman with whom we'd done stories, Rick Morris, contacted us and said he would like to donate a prosthetic leg to Julie. Rick owned his own prosthetic clinic and identified with Julie's story, since he'd been through an accident himself.

Fast forward a few more years. I'd kept in touch with Julie and her mom through Facebook. Julie is now married with two children. She often posted openly about some funny incident involving her "little leg." This spring, I noticed Julie starting to post about running. She told me the inspiration hit last December, on her 26th birthday. She didn't know why, but she felt the pull to run again. Steadily, she has been building her time and her distance. While any runner will deal with aches and pains, Julie had the added challenge of blishers, rashes, skin breakdown and any other host of challenges where her prosthesis attached to her remaining leg. But she persevered and entered several 5Ks this spring.

Saturday, though, was a big test. Julie was running her first 10K. Her longest run in training had been four miles, so she told me she was nervous and anxious. I saw her and her mom before the race and wished her luck. While I was making the turn back home for the 5K finish, I saw Julie trekking up the road with the other 10K runners. I passed her mom (who was walking the 5K) a little later and told her we had seen Julie and she was looking good. Mom was pleased to hear the update!

Approximately one hour and 20 minutes after the starting gun sounded, Julie crossed the finish line to the cheers of family and friends, who captured the moment:

Julie posted:

My only goal was to cross that finish line and be proud of myself. I feel amazing and not ashamed to say that I am really proud of myself. I did it! And I cried crossing the finish.

Among those who came to see Julie was Rick Morris, with whom Julie has formed a lasting friendship. Rick recalled that first meeting with Julie and her family in his office, as she was still coming to grips with how her life might change. He told me all she needed was someone to help her take that first step. The rest was up to her.

Julie plans to take many more steps. This 10K is part of a larger goal to complete a half-marathon. She has her sites set on a run in September, despite Saturday's hills causing a few skin issues that have forced her to set aside the prosthesis for a few days. While the pain of the setback might have many of us rethinking pushing the limits even further, Julie said this in a message to me today:

Never thought I would be running like this again! Feels amazing.

It is amazing to see how far Julie has come and even better to see the attitude with which she has faced and met her challenges. It is people like Julie who enter my mind whenever I might start to think of an excuse as to why I'm not able to reach for a goal. We all have a choice as to what we are going to do with what life has given us. We can choose to remain seated, or we can choose to rise above and use them as a catalyst for positive change.

I'd say Julie reached a big finish line Saturday, but the truth is, I think she might tell you she's just getting started!





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