To compete is a gift for runner Kimmie Champion
Kimmie Champion often sees opportunity where others might see a challenge.
She was that way growing up in rural Georgia. She was that way watching the 2016 Chicago Marathon with a friend. And she's that way with patients at Eastside Orthotics and Prosthetics in Gresham, where she has worked as a prosthetist since February 2019.
Being born without a right foot, only a heel, didn't keep Champion from athletic success in high school, or more recently, from completing the 2018 Chicago Marathon.
But wear and tear on her original running prosthetic was becoming an issue.
"It has a lot of miles on it. It kind of went kaput," she said.
Without a reliable prosthesis, Champion's distance running was limited.
Up stepped prosthetic maker Ossur. In a partnership with the Challenged Athletes Foundation, Ossur recently gave a new running prosthetic to five athletes, including Champion.
"I love running," Champion said. "As an amputee, to distance run, which is what I prefer, you have to have a specific running prosthesis."
The prosthetic she is replacing is one Champion and a friend built together in 2016. Among the miles she has run on that was the 2018 Chicago Marathon — which she finished in 5 hours, 3 minutes and 54 seconds — and several half-marathons.
Champion's marathon dream started on the sidewalk near a friend's home in 2016.
"I decided I shouldn't be watching the marathon, I should be running the marathon," she said.
That can-do attitude comes through in her work as a prosthetist.
"I get laughed at a lot because (patients) can tell me the most outlandish goal in the world and I won't bat an eye at it," she said. "I'm not going to say no. I'm going to say, 'OK. Let's work on that.'"
Judging from video tributes from patients who Champion has helped, her approach to challenges is inspiring.
Champion said she caught the sports bug when she was about 4 and first played catch with her older brother.
High school at Robert Toombs Christian Academy in Lyons, Georgia, where her graduating class included 22 students, provided plenty of opportunity. Champion played basketball and softball and ran track and cross country.
She wore an original Flex Foot model back then, making a Georgia basketball all-star team as a senior, helping her school to the small-school state softball semifinals and winning state titles in the high jump, discus and as a member of the mile relay.
During her college career at the University of Alabama, she helped the Crimson Tide win three national titles in wheelchair basketball.
Champion played for the U.S. national women's wheelchair basketball team from 2013-15, and served as an alternate three other years. In 2015, she helped Team USA to a gold medal at the Parapan American Games.
When her basketball career ended in 2016, distance running "swooped in" to become her sport.
"I looked at five hours of running as no different than 12 hours of basketball in one day," she said.
Champion, who moved to Portland in February of 2019 for the job at Eastside Orthotics and Prosthetics, was looking forward to running in the Hood to Coast Relay this year, but now hopes to have that experience in 2021.
A former open-water lifeguard, Champion got a bike at the start of this year and is considering trying an individual triathlon.
She isn't yet sure that's the direction she'll go next. But once she gets her new Ossur Cheetah Xtend fitted to her leg, Champion will chase new goals.
"It means to me that I don't have to stop doing what I love," she said of the surprise gift. "I get to continue to run. And it's not random pieces put together, it's made for me."
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