Turia Pitt's excitement at running the 100K Kimberly Ultramarathon in Australia quickly turned to horror one fateful day in 2011 when, shortly after leaving the marathon's second checkpoint, she got trapped in a treacherous bush fire. Pitt and three of her fellow runners were stuck for hours in a rocky gorge trying to fight back the flames until firefighters could reach them.
Firefighters were finally able to contain the fire, but at that point Pitt had third-degree burns on more than 65 percent of her body. "It was so surreal, it felt like a nightmare, and we had to wait four hours for help to come," Pitt told Health.
Pitt's road to recovery was anything but easy. She doesn't recall much from the first month in the hospital but remembers not being able to see her body because of all the bandages.
In total, she spent over 864 days in the hospital, going under the knife more than 200 times. Other than several skin grafts, most of Pitt's fingers were amputated and her nose was eventually reconstructed using the skin from her forehead.
Despite all the physical damage, the emotional devastation trumped the pain. Pitt had lost the body that she had once prized for being so fit and healthy. Now, weighing less than 100 pounds, she could barely sit up in her own bed.
"Doctors told me I would never run again and that was a massive moment for me," she said. "You know, I was 24 years old, my whole life was ahead of me and I'd always prided myself and drawn a lot of my self-belief from my athletic ability."
She refused to let the doctors limit her. "I just thought, I'm going to show you," she said. And that's exactly what Pitt did.
She started by training her body in the hospital bed. Once she was strong enough to stand, she began taking steps. With a lot of physical therapy, hard work, and determination, those simple steps soon turned into miles.
After about a year out of the hospital, Pitt was finally able to run about half the length of a football field. "The more I gained my physical abilities, the more I felt like me," she said.
By 2015, Pitt was strong enough to run a half-marathon. Not only that, but she ran the race faster than she had before the incident. Despite the incredible accomplishment, Pitt wanted to do the unthinkable: Compete in an Ironman.
A year and a half of training later, she was ready to compete in her first race in 2016. She crossed the finish line in 13 hours, 24 minutes, and 42 seconds—placing 137th out of 263 women.
"When I came down the finishing chute—that is an experience that no amount of money can buy because it is a culmination of hours of training and all the sacrifices you've made," she said. "I think I'm addicted to that feeling."
Pitt has defied all odds but has no plans on stopping to amaze just yet. On October 8, she is set to compete in the 2016 Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.
"When I'm in pain or I want to quit I just remind myself of everything I've gone through," she said. "I really believe anyone can do anything if they just put their mind to it, and take one step at a time."