The day after Jamie Watts turned 33 in June 2014, she took a picture at the start line of a race near Washington, DC, not knowing if she'd be able to finish. Born with spastic diplegia cerebral palsy due to a lack of oxygen that damaged certain motor functions in her brain, she didn't learn to walk until she was 3 years old, used crutches and a four-point cane to get around as a kid, and still struggles with balance and coordination. But as the Washingtonian reports, the determined advocate for people with disabilities had fallen in love with running the year before and vowed, quietly, to complete 34 races in the year leading up to her 34th birthday. What she didn't anticipate was the following she'd amass as people gathered and waited from one race to the next to cheer Watts on as she crossed the finish line—dead last, every time.
Many hours and falls later, Watts completed her mission. It wasn't easy, as she reports in Pacers Running, but she had the help of race organizers who offered her head starts and an escort for most races. Watts runs a 30-minute mile; the first time she tried a 10-mile race she said she knew she could go six but said "it’s going to be my friends that get me through the last four." When she crossed the finish line, six hours and 32 minutes later, a crowd greeted the running community's new hero, and race organizer and friend Lisa Reeves was the first to hug her. "It's just inspiring and it gives you a reason to keep going every day," Reeves says in a Pacers Running video. Watts went on to complete 40 runs by her 34th birthday and another 36 by her 35th. In May, she set off at 2:28am to run her first half marathon and finished in seven hours and 53 minutes. (This woman's half marathon pace is just over 5 minutes, even after having her second baby.)