Palmiero-Winters wins Sullivan Award as nation's top amateur athlete


Jill Geer
Chief Public Affairs Officer
USA Track & Field

Photo of Usain BoltAmyNEW YORK -Team USA ultramarathoner and lower-leg amputee Amy Palmiero-Winters of Hicksville, N.Y., on Wednesday evening was recognized for her athletic achievements, contributions to society and embodiment of the ideals of amateurism when she was named the winner of the 2009 AAU Sullivan Award as the nation's top amateur athlete.

Accepting the award at the New York Athletic Club, Palmiero-Winters became the first USATF athlete to win the Sullivan Award since Michael Johnson in 1996. She joins other Sullivan Award winners from track and field such as Carl Lewis, Bruce Jenner, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Joan Benoit Samuelson, Mary Decker, Florence Griffith-Joyner, Rafer Johnson, Frank Shorter and Edwin Moses.

"To me, this means a lot," said Palmiero-Winters, who wore a white mini-dress to show off her prosthesis and who attended Wednesday's ceremony with her two children, friends and support crew. "It shows that what I do and how hard I try actually is making a difference. The people who believe in you and stand by you help you do better things."

The first amputee ever named to a USA national team, Palmiero-Winters' year was culminated and highlighted by the "Race to the Future" on New Year's Eve, in which she beat all able-bodied male and female finishers. Covering 130.04 miles in the 24-hour race, her performance qualified her for the Team USA roster at the 2010 International Association of Ultrarunners' 24-hour Run World Championship, to be held in Brive, France on May 13-14, 2010.

Competing in no fewer than 10 ultra-distance races in 2009, Winters also won the women's division at the Heartland 100 Mile in October, earning USATF Athlete of the Week honors. She became the first amputee to qualify for Western States 100 mile ultra marathon and was the first amputee to run the Mount Washington Race.

The 37-year-old singer mother works as a youth fitness director for Hicksville-based prosthesis company A Step Ahead, as well as serving as a coach and motivational speaker. She is particularly devoted to working with children who are recovering from amputations, putting together 15 sports programs each year for young amputees. When not ultramarathoning, she runs six marathons each year pushing disabled people in their wheelchairs - traditional wheelchairs, rather than specially made racing chairs. Next weekend, she will push a young girl in a marathon and speak at six schools and two hospitals.

After a 1997 motorcycle accident and 27 surgeries, Palmiero-Winters had her left leg amputated below the knee. She has subsequently become a single-leg below-the-knee amputee world record holder in over a dozen events, including the marathon and Ironman distance triathlon. When not doing an overnight, 11-hour run, working full-time or being a mom, she enjoys rock climbing, ice climbing and skiing.

Other finalists for the 2009 Sullivan Award included NCAA champion runner and Honda Award winner Angela Bizzarri of the University of Illinois, University of South Florida soccer player Zach Boggs, luger Erin Hamlin, Penn State volleyball player Megan Hodge and West Point baseball player Clint Moore.

Presented since 1930, the Sullivan also is based on leadership, character, sportsmanship and the ideals of amateurism. Track and field athletes have won the Sullivan Award more than athletes from any other sport.

For more on the 2009 AAU Sullivan Award, including video footage of Palmiero-Winters accepting her award, visit