On September 25, 2011, a group of five ladies crossed the finish line of the Ramblin’ Rose Sprint Triathlon in Charlotte, North Carolina. The mini-team looked like a weekend girls’ trip, a gaggle of good-looking ladies leaping into a 250 yard swim, 9 mile bike, and 2 mile run.
In the middle of the group was a svelte blonde woman with a prosthetic running leg. The woman is Janelle Hansberger. And Janelle is ridiculous.
By ridiculous, I mean that Janelle is ridiculously smart, talented, and inspiring. The first time I met her, I wanted to pinch her and see if she was made of magic fairy dust. I have never met anyone like her.
Only a year ago, Janelle lost her leg below the knee. A typically deadly bacteria infection called necrotizing fasciitis had taken root in Janelle, and she began to suffer extreme complications, including sepsis and organ failure. Within a few days, her left leg was amputated below the knee.
The limb loss was a tragedy. But the tragedy saved her life.
At the time of her illness, Janelle’s marriage was on the rocks and divorce was inevitable. A month later, she found herself juggling single motherhood on one leg. The limb loss – an obviously poignant symbol of the failed marriage.
Janelle was a runner prior to her amputation, but decided that swim and cycling might also be fun. After her recovery, an amputee friend introduced her to the founder of The Getting2Tri Foundation, Mike Lenhart. The Getting2Tri Foundation is an organization that focuses on providing coaching and support to disabled, including amputee, athletes in the sport of triathlon. Janelle attended one the G2T camps only six months after her amputation. Only a year after losing her leg, Janelle crossed the finish of the Ramblin’ Rose triathlon with her friends.
I asked Janelle when she began mourning her limb loss. When did she first get angry, yell and use the “F word” in inappropriate places like elevators and parking lots?
She laughed, “I never had time to be angry. I have two young boys. They needed me. I had parents and a sister who scooped me up and supported me at every turn. I am alive. I am well. I am blessed.” She paused and said again, “Alive. I am one of the few people I have known to survive this illness. Why would I be angry?”
This is Janelle. A single mother of two boys, a survivor and now, a triathlete. A woman who finds immeasurable gain from a tragic loss. Way to go, girl.