Coralville blade runner finds ‘family’ in cross country

Hannah Longmire, whose legs were amputated below the knee when she was 2, is among the fastest runners at Northwest Junior High.

“Be savage, not average” was the quote Hannah Longmire decided to put on her prosthetic running blades for the last cross-country meet of the regular season.

Hannah, 14, an eighth-grader at Northwest Junior High, wanted other runners to know something about her besides that she has prosthetic legs. And that she’s the fastest girl on her team, running sub-seven-minute miles.

“I’m different and I need to show that off,” she said.

Hannah, of Coralville, was born with a congenital limb difference, which caused her to have her legs amputated below the knee when she was 2. For the first few years after the surgery, she had ill-fitting prostheses that were uncomfortable and heavy. She didn’t want to wear them and sometimes was pushed in a stroller.

“I was a pretty lazy kid,” she said.

But when she was 10, Hannah was fitted for new prosthetic legs. Lighter and with a piece of foam between her leg and the plastic, the legs were more comfortable and opened a new world of mobility.

She also got a pair of running blades, which have a curved piece of metal that rebounds a runner’s energy as it strikes the ground.

Northwest Junior High’s Hannah Longmire warms up with teammates Tuesday before a race at Cherry Hill Park in Cedar Rapids.
Northwest Junior High’s Hannah Longmire warms up with teammates Tuesday before a race at Cherry Hill Park in Cedar Rapids.

“I was trying out different sports,” Hannah said. “I did rowing, swimming, soccer, running and dance. I did enjoy the other sports, but I enjoyed running the most. The more I won, the more I liked it.”

Hannah was home-schooled from third through sixth grades. When she went to junior high last year, she didn’t know what her peers would think about her. Would they stare at her prostheses? Would they think she looked little when she took them off?

“I had this thing when I didn’t want to take off my prosthetics,” she said. “I don’t have the shape of a regular foot. Usually when you take off your shoes and socks, you have a foot. When you take off mine, it’s like the bottom of a heel. I don’t know if I really have an ankle. I’m definitely a lot tinier without them.”

But she made friends who didn’t care about her legs. They cared more about her style and her stories and the laugh that bubbles out when she talks.

Teammate Kate Van Waning helps Hannah Longmire remove her race sensor after her race Tuesday at Cherry Hill Park in Cedar Rapids.

Because of COVID-19, Hannah’s seventh-grade cross-country season was canceled. When track season rolled around, it didn’t take long for her peers to see her skill in 800-meter and 1-mile races.

“When I do my para races, it’s not the same because you have to run against people like you,” Hannah said of races designed for people with disabilities. “There are not many people like me, with two prosthetics below the knee.”

Now, competing against eighth grade girls from across Eastern Iowa, “I get first place because I earned it. I didn’t get first place because I was the only one in my category,” she said.

Hannah did have to learn how to do baton handoffs. Her hands are shaped differently and her left hand has a weaker grip. But she adapted, the same way she did with writing, using chop sticks and texting.

“I text faster than a lot of people can,” she said. “I hold the phone with my pointer fingers and text with my thumbs.”

Hannah also has modeled, advertising products for Disney, Claire’s and GoGo squeeZ applesauce. She is the second-youngest of Mack and Lee Longmire’s eight children, three of whom have disabilities.

Given Hannah’s ease doing a newspaper interview, it’s no surprise she has a quick answer about what she wants to be when she grows up.

“I want to be professional running coach to people who want to go to the Olympics and Paralympics,” she said. This is after she goes to the Paralympics herself in high school or college.

Until then, Hannah was excited for the Dick Washburn Middle School Statewide Cross Country Meet this Saturday in Ankeny.

“It’s really nice to be part of a team, a supportive one, a family,” she said.