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updated: 7/22/2014 2:35 PM

Lost leg inspires Arlington Heights woman to run

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  • Jean Draper of Arlington Heights competed in Sunday's Rock 'n' Roll half-marathon. She is a below-the-knee amputee. Here, she is competing in Ironman Arizona last November in Tempe.

      Jean Draper of Arlington Heights competed in Sunday's Rock 'n' Roll half-marathon. She is a below-the-knee amputee. Here, she is competing in Ironman Arizona last November in Tempe.
    Courtesy Challenged Athletes Foundation

  • Jean Draper of Arlington Heights competed in Sunday's Rock 'n' Roll half-marathon. She is a below-the-knee amputee. Here, she is competing in Ironman Arizona last November in Tempe.

      Jean Draper of Arlington Heights competed in Sunday's Rock 'n' Roll half-marathon. She is a below-the-knee amputee. Here, she is competing in Ironman Arizona last November in Tempe.
    Courtesy Challenged Athletes Foundation

  • Jean Draper of Arlington Heights competed in Sunday's Rock 'n' Roll half-marathon. She is a below-the-knee amputee. Here, she is competing in Ironman Arizona last November in Tempe.

      Jean Draper of Arlington Heights competed in Sunday's Rock 'n' Roll half-marathon. She is a below-the-knee amputee. Here, she is competing in Ironman Arizona last November in Tempe.
    photos Courtesy of Challenged Athletes Foundation

 

Jean Draper of Arlington Heights was one of more than 19,000 athletes who competed in Sunday's Rock 'n' Roll half-marathon at Grant Park.

As a below-the-knee amputee, she competed against other athletes with disabilities, but don't call her a disabled athlete.

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At 41, Draper has lost track of how many half-marathons she has completed. And that's not to mention the full marathons, sprint and Olympic distance triathlons, or the Ironman she completed last November.

"I know I've done more (races) now than I would have if I hadn't lost my leg," she said

It was in 2005, when Draper and her husband, Robert, were living in Colorado Springs, that a freak accident changed their lives. As they were getting their kids out of the car to go to the park, a driver next to them mistakenly hit the gas pedal instead of the brake while trying to parallel park.

"It took me two years to start running again," says Draper, who had started running short distances in college. "I kept setting little goals for myself."

Less than five years after losing her leg, Draper participated in the New York Triathlon, her first standard distance race, where she finished third in the division for athletes with moderate leg impairment, including below-knee amputees.

Her impressive finish qualified her for the International Triathlon Union World Championships on Australia's Gold Coast, where she took the bronze medal.

That was in 2009, and Draper has qualified for worlds nearly every year since then, though Australia was the only time she made the trip.

She's too busy. Between her two children's activities, her husband's Ironman training and her full-time job in pharmaceutical sales, Draper participates in endurance races whenever she can.

Her next event is the Boulder Marathon in October. Running Sunday's half-marathon fit nicely into her training, she said.

Due to her success, she has won sponsorship by Team Chocolate Milk -- whose athletes recover from their competitions by drinking low-fat chocolate milk -- and she has become an advocate for the Challenged Athletes Foundation. The San Diego-based foundation supports persons with disabilities who want to get back into sports and competitive athletics.

"They emphasize the importance of sports and being active," Draper says. "It heals them and makes them feel whole again."

Jenna Loftus, the business development manager for the foundation, says that as a wife, mother and athlete, Draper serves as a good ambassador.

"Jean is a dedicated team player," Loftus says. "She gives her all at every race she competes in and is constantly looking for new ways to challenge herself."

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