Setting the Stage for Success

Born a bilateral, transfemoral amputee, Katy Sullivan was never expected to one day be described as a Paralympics hopeful. Even early on, one of the doctors who worked closely with Sullivan’s mother commented that the world did not need another athlete but Sullivan would find other things of interest in which she would excel.

After hearing about this encounter years later, Sullivan was not necessarily shocked by the discouraging comment, probably because she was already stealing a different kind of spotlight, far from the athletic track.

Sullivan grew up in Alabama and quickly settled into the role of an actress – one that, based on her success, she was born to play.

She immersed herself in the theatrical opportunities around her in junior high and high school, as well as community theater and later earned her bachelor of fine arts degree from a conservatory program in St. Louis where, she explained, students eat, drink, sleep and breathe theater. Following graduation, she worked at Chicago’s Goodman Theater.

Despite such successes, Sullivan knew her dream would one day lead her to Los Angeles where she could pursue television and film opportunities. Running was not an intended part of her repertoire.

The dream team

Setting the Stage for SuccessAt the end of her college years, the notion of beginning a running regimen was discussed with her prosthetist in St. Louis as a way to improve her physical fitness.

Then Sullivan made the move to Los Angeles to follow her heart, but not even she could predict the way things would fall into place and eventually send her running.

William Yule, CP for Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics in Downey, Calif. took over Sullivan’s prosthetic care on the West coast.

“I knew from the minute I walked in the room that she had the ability to do something greater for this profession than I think she realized,” Yule told O&P Business News.

It was here that Sullivan saw a familiar face from her St. Louis prosthetist’s office. Coryn Reich, BEP, who had worked in the St. Louis office, also moved to California following her dream of attending prosthetic school. Reich was the resident prosthetist in the Hanger Downey office.

The two refer to the second chance encounter as luck although it seems more like a twist of fate.

Julie Yang, PT, DPT, NCS, of the outpatient physical therapy department at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center, is the final member of Sullivan’s self-proclaimed “dream team” of professionals. Yang took on the role of increasing Sullivan’s endurance and strength to better prepare her for a lifestyle that included running.

“Usually patients are learning how to use a prosthesis for the first time so Katy is different in that she has been doing that her whole life,” Yang told O&P Business News. “My goal was to get her physically fit.”

Yule recognizes the power of the unit they have formed to benefit Sullivan.

“We could not have done this alone. We have a lot of support from her physicians, from Julie, and working as a team we each add a certain component to the mix,” Yule said. “It has been rewarding and I think we are only scratching the surface at the moment.”

Katy Sullivan running Coryn Reich, BEP, Katy Sullivan, Julie Yang, PT, DPT and William Yule, CP
At the end of her college years, the notion of a running regimen was discussed with her prosthetist as a way to improve her physical fitness. Pictured from left are Coryn Reich, BEP, Katy Sullivan, Julie Yang, PT, DPT and William Yule, CP.
  All images reprinted with permission of Katy Sullivan.

Becoming a role model

Modesty is one of Sullivan’s humbling attributes. She is proud of her accomplishments but does not call attention to the challenges she has overcome in achieving them.

“There are a lot of amputees who are proud of it and they should be. They have overcome an incredible amount of trauma and turmoil; but I am congenital, so to me it was just the way things have always been and I have always done my best to blend in with the crowd,” Sullivan said.

As Sullivan grows in popularity in both arenas, her talents will no longer allow her to blend in but that is not what she is looking to do any longer.

Katy Sullivan
Katy Sullivan

“They [my rehab team] have been so giving of their time and their energy and their expertise and I would not be where I am without them. The kind of attention that they pay to me has been incredible and I am forever indebted to them.”


Even if she wanted to, the group of professionals cheering her on, would not allow her talents as a leader and a role model go to waste.

“She is sunshine and is insightful,” Yang said. “She exudes confidence and energy and you just want to be around her.”

The other members of the team echoed the sentiment.

“Katy is an amazing person as far as her abilities and her personality,” Reich said. “Instead of thinking she can’t do something – she never has that mind frame – we just have to figure out how she can do it. If it has to be a little bit different, it has to be different but she can figure it out and she wants to try everything.”

This group may show some bias, but outside organizations are also beginning to see the value of Sullivan’s achievements. She was honored by the Los Angeles County Commission for Women for being such a positive inspiration for women and women in athletics.

“For me, all three of them have gone way above and beyond their call of duty,” Sullivan said of her dream team. “They have been so giving of their time and their energy and their expertise and I would not be where I am without them. The kind of attention that they pay to me has been incredible and I am forever indebted to them,” Sullivan said.

Life in the fast lane

Sullivan has been working alongside her winning trio for 18 months, blending expertise and enthusiasm to help achieve her dreams on and off the track.

Katy Sullivan competing in rock climbing at the O&P Extremity Games
Although she is more of a runner, Sullivan competed in rock climbing at last year’s O&P Extremity Games.

In this short time, the team feels positive about their progress and how quickly Sullivan has been able to pick everything up.

Sullivan ran for the first time in March 2006 and began training seriously about a month before the Endeavor Games in Oklahoma where she ran the 100 m, 200 m and swam in three events.

Hanger sponsored Sullivan to attend the games and Yule and Reich went along for support and encouragement.

“My first 100 m was [versus] five guys on the starting blocks. Four of them were bilateral above-knee amputees and one of them was a unilateral and then there was me,” Sullivan said. “I ended up beating two of them in that race. It was awesome.”

College Park Industries saw Sullivan’s performance at the Endeavor Games and invited her to attend the O&P Extremity Games in July 2006 where she competed in rock climbing.

“I am not as good at rock climbing as I am at running,” Sullivan laughed. “I will try anything once.”

Ultimately, Sullivan would like to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Paralympics.

“I am the first female at my level of amputation to compete, so I am having to compete as a unilateral which makes it more difficult.”

That obstacle is not proving too challenging for Sullivan to overcome. The world record for the unilateral 100 m is 16.9 seconds and she is currently running a 17.4, with less than a full year of training.

Being able to experience the ups and downs of this journey alongside Sullivan have been some of the best moments shared by the team.

“Being with Katy the first time she ran was truly one of the most incredible experiences of my career so far and defines why I love my job,” Reich said.

Acting dreams

In addition to her hopes for the future of her running career, Sullivan has not cast aside her lifelong dreams of acting. She was recently on an episode of the popular drama Nip/Tuck as well as the pilot episode for the new series Dirt.

While she cannot give too much information away regarding the next steps in her acting career, she shared that there are some acting opportunities “ in the pipeline … so Los Angeles has been good to me.”

Jennifer Hoydicz is a staff writer for O&P Business News.

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