Katy Sullivan was born a bilateral, transfemoral amputee – missing both legs through her femur bones. Ultra sounds were not the norm back in the 70’s when Katy was born, so the first indication that there was a problem was when Katy’s mom was in the hospital in the pains of labor. Mrs. Sullivan was given anesthesia, but she knew something was amiss before she went under. When she awoke, looking at her husband, wanting to know what happened, she asked him to tell her the truth. He told her Katy was born without her lower legs. Incredulously, she stared at her husband and said, “That’s it?” And, that’s been Katy’s mantra ever since. The absence of her lower legs certainly hasn’t held her back. In Katy’s words, “No, is not a possibility.”
Growing up in Alabama, Katy’s limb loss wasn’t a big deal. “I never realized I was different. I wasn’t treated differently from my siblings or friends. I believe I didn’t have problems with other kids thinking I was different because I was always honest, not ashamed of it. If I noticed kids staring at me, I would go up to them and answer any questions they had. I would just tell them about it. I do that today, too. It’s all about educating people.”
As a youngster, Katy was on the local swim team just like her older sister. She also loved gymnastics and was quite good at the uneven bars due to her upper body strength. In junior high and high school, Katy honed in on her singing and acting talents. The singing group she joined actually sang during the opening ceremonies of the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
Katy earned a BFA in acting from Webster University in St. Louis, Missouri. She was the first physically disabled actor to graduate from the college. Katy headed to the prestigious Goodman Theatre in Chicago, to pursue her acting career after graduation. Katy currently lives in Los Angeles, trying to break into the film and television industry. You may have seen her on Dirt or Nip and Tuck.
When she first arrived in Los Angeles, her Hanger prosthetist suggested she try running. Having always been an athletic and active person, she jumped at the chance…literally. “The carbon graphite feet are very springy. It was difficult at first to get the feel for them; how to physically get the hang of it. If there had been a hopping event at track meets, I would have come in first place,” Katy reminisced.
Katy was determined. Her philosophy of “I want to do this. I won’t let speed-bumps slow me down,” kicked in. Six months later at a running clinic, everything seemed to come together and Katy’s been setting running records ever since.
Katy recently returned from the Pan Am games in Rio de Janeiro, where she was a member of the US Parapan team. Feeling a little out of her element, she said she would rather sing the National Anthem than run! True to form, Katy excelled in the races. She managed to beat her personal best time by running under eighteen seconds in the 100-meter race. Due to her excellent running time, she is eligible to compete in the qualifying trials for the United States Paralympics team. If all goes well, Katy will be off to Beijing next year for the 2008 Summer Olympics. As one of the fastest double AK amputees, male or female, in the world, Katy is definitely off and running.
Katy competed in the 2007 Para Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the 2011 Para Pan Am Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, the 2011 Paralympic World Championships in Christchurch, New Zealand and the 2006, 2007, 2010, 2011, and the 2012 Paralympic National Championships where she broke the World Record for the 200m in 2007 and the World Record for the 100m in 2012. She is the current U.S. Champion in the 100 meters and is ranked 5th in the world. Katy represented the U.S. at the BT Paralympic World Cup in England, recently set a new American Record in the 100 meter dash at a competition in Canada, and is competing in the 2012 Paralympic Games.
According to Katy, it’s all perspective. “Part of being successful in life is embracing who you are. Today, a disability doesn’t have to hold you back. It can open doors. For instance, I’m an inspiration to others, especially girls,” enthuses Katy.
“I want young girls with prosthetic legs and cosmetic feet to know that they can still be soft, that they’re not just made of metal and plaster. They can still be girly and paint their toenails, and wear flip-flops and skirts, backless shoes and heels. They’re still perceived as beautiful. If I can provide people with hope, hope is stronger than any medicine you can take. Hope is such an incredible gift to provide to the world.”