“My heart is in ultrarunning, and that’s just where I want to be. I just want to be out there, plowing out the miles.”
It was December, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina and Jacky Hunt-Broersma was picking up her packet for her first official race. She had only been running for three months, an interest that was sparked from her husband. For many years, she had cheered Edwin on from the sidelines, and a thought had crept up into her mind. “I had this romantic idea that we could run together, and had no clue about paces.” Her life was full and busy, with young children and a job in pharmaceutical sales. There was also a more significant challenge that she faced, as she began her running career. “I had to go through the whole process of finding a prosthetic that I could actually run with.” Back to that day in December, as she stood in line at packet pick-up. Initially, she had signed up for the 10k distance, but made a last-minute decision to switch to the half-marathon, which more than doubled her race distance. She laughed, remembering the story. “That’s pretty much how I do things, I just kind of jump into it and see what happens.”
Jacky was born and raised in South Africa. “I grew up in a very protective environment.” She learned early on the important rules of locking your doors and never stopping at a traffic light at night. “When you’re growing up there, it’s actually seemed quite normal.” Her routine involved going to school, hanging out with her friends and participating on the swim team. They had a track at their school, but she was clearly not interested. “I was the kid who would avoid track meets, I was the one that would hide in the bathroom.”
Jacky attended college in her home country, and also met Edwin there. After graduation, they moved away to the Netherlands, and began their life together. “We were so carefree, it was great, work and travel, that is pretty much what we did.” She had also had a realization that only came to her after moving away from her hometown. Whereas life had felt like living in a bubble, with locked communities and a claustrophobic kind of feeling, moving away gave her a sense of freedom and the desire to explore.
In 2001, Jacky discovered a lump on her leg. It was the size of a golf ball and popped out overnight. A visit to her doctor, followed by a biopsy revealed that it was cancer. The tumor was attached to the nerve of her foot, which meant there was only one logical treatment option. One week after her diagnosis, she was in surgery having her leg amputated. “You go into survival mode.” What she found was a new strength. Just four weeks after her surgery, she was back to work, determined to get her life back to normal. Acceptance took time, as she struggled with her body image and her new reality. “Looking back now, it sounds really weird, I’m kind of glad it happened. It puts life in perspective, you appreciate things more. I just think I’m a better person because of what happened.”
Jacky not only survived cancer, but she has thrived over the 17 years since. A few years after her diagnosis, her and Edwin moved to the United Kingdom. While living there, they welcomed a daughter and a son into their lives. In 2015, when Edwin was offered a position in North Carolina, they jumped at the chance to move to the States. Two years later, in Chicago, she found herself at the starting line of her first marathon. Being registered as an amputee, she was allowed to have a pacer and Edwin was happy to fill that role. “Chicago was our first weekend away, since we’d had kids and we run a marathon.” She still gets goosebumps thinking about her favorite part of the day. “The crowd is absolutely phenomenal, I’ve never experienced anything like it before.”
After her successful marathon performance in Chicago, she turned her focus to a new challenge, trail running. With her typical enthusiasm, she signed up for the Triple Lakes Ultra in Greensboro, NC. Her lack of trail-racing experience didn’t hold her back. “I was loving being out on the trails and hadn’t run a trail race yet, so why not go from 0 miles to 40 miles.” Another huge challenge presented itself that day. Heavy rainfall had made the trails muddy and slick, and Jacky’s blade had road tread. “I had absolutely zero grip, so with the downhills I had to bum-shuffle.” Soon after, she was introduced to a person who helped her in a big way. “Luckily, I’ve got this amazing prosthetist who actually customized my tread.” He deconstructed a trail shoe, and transplanted the tread onto her blade, which gave her more freedom to tackle the trails.
She speaks with tremendous gratitude about her support team, which includes her physical therapists, doctors and prosthetists. “I feel so incredibly grateful, because they’ve been absolutely amazing. They think I’m totally nuts, but they work so hard to keep me moving and running the distances I do.” She also is mindful about the example she is setting for her children. “Having kids, you make everything really positive, you show them that you can be strong.”
One of her proudest running achievements was completing a 50 mile race at Umstead. “I’m still riding the high of it!” She raved about the friendly atmosphere of the event. Her favorite part of day was running with Edwin. “It just made it so much more fun and special.”
Jacky’s 2019 schedule is filling up quickly. She is competing in the TransRockies, a multiday point-to-point race, in Colorado, that covers 60 miles over three days. She plans on sprinkling in a few 50 kilometer races to boot. She’s dreaming big in 2020, with the hopes of completing her first 100 mile race. “I’m having the best time, and my body just has to keep up with me.”
Armed with a great attitude, a husband who inspired her to run far and loads of gratitude, she is clearly loving her path. “My heart is in ultrarunning, and that’s just where I want to be. I just want to be out there, plowing out the miles.”