Sterling native runs through adversity, wins division in Boston Marathon

A Kansas woman etched her name in history at one of the world’s biggest stages in competitive running. Overcoming obstacles to achieve goals, Liz Willis, from Sterling, hopes her story can be an inspiration to others in their own pursuits.

Willis has been running for most of her life. She has the medals, memories and photos to prove it. Along the way, she’s run toward adversity, not a way from it. Her latest achievement came at last week’s Boston Marathon where she was crowned the first champion in a new Para-Athletic division. Running in the prestigious race was always a goal for Willis, growing up. It’s one that at least temporarily became impossible after complications with pregnancy 10 years ago led to a situation with blood clots and a point to where doctors had to amputate her left leg.

“It was always in the back of my mind, but then when you become an amputee, running is so hard,” Willis said.

Eyewitness News first met Willis six years ago when she was preparing to compete in the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, competing as a sprinter. It was an opposite approach to her more recent distance challenges and her roots.

“Everyone knows me as a sprinter, but I am kind of a distance runner by heart,” Willis said.

She qualified for the Boston Marathon at the Prairie Fire Marathon in Wichita, making the cut-off by three minutes. Willis would go on to cut almost an hour off of her qualifying time in the event, claiming her division in Boston. More than the win, Willis said she hopes to inspire someone to take a chance and chase their dreams.

“Only two women who are amputees who were actually willing to go and run the marathon, to take on that task, to take on that challenge,” she said. “Just by running it, it gives other women hope, other amputees hope that, ‘yeah, I can do this.’”

Willis has plans to someday return to the Boston Marathon to race again. She said the goal is to be able to bring along some of the adaptive athletes she coaches, aiming to reach more amputees and athletes, one step at a time.

“That is why we live here on Earth is to make the world a better place by using our talents and gifts, and running happens to be mine,” she said. “Why not use it to encourage kids, youth, adults to pursue their dreams?”

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