"Running was something that was always there," said Palmiero-Winters, who is missing her left leg below the knee and who is the first amputee to be named to the USA Track and Field team.
Palmiero-Winters ran competitively in high school in Meadville, Pa. She ran the day before delivering her son Carson. When she was five months pregnant with her daughter Madilynn, she tackled California's Silver Strand Marathon and came in second place in her division.
Two months after Madilynn was born, Palmiero-Winters competed in her first triathlon, placing third in her division. In 2006, two days after a hospital stay for anaphylactic shock, she set a new world record for a female below-the-knee amputee, finishing the Chicago Marathon in 3:04:16.
But for three years following her amputation, Palmiero-Winters didn't run at all.
Palmiero-Winters, now 37, was 21 when she severely damaged her left foot in a motorcycle crash. Doctors performed 25 operations over the next three years, but in the end, she lost her left leg below the knee. She would wait three more years before trying to run.
"I would run 2 or 3 miles and then I wouldn't be able to walk for a couple of days," Palmiero-Winters remembered, describing the constant shock shooting up the remaining portion of her left leg every time her prosthetic met the concrete.
Running is her constant, so she kept running.
The bone in Palmiero-Winters left leg grew infected, and doctors had to remove another portion. This time, Palmiero-Winters researched prosthetics before buying. She found prosthetist Erik Schaffer of A Step Ahead Prosthetics and Orthotics in Hicksville, N.Y. He provides her running blades, which can cost at least $25,000 each.
Schaffer also became an immediate ally in her quest to conquer the running world.
"I told him, 'I want to run 100 miles,'" Palmiero-Winters said. Schaffer, whose challenging client base includes numerous Paralympic athletes and members of the U.S. Special Forces, didn't bat an eye. "He said, 'OK, let's get to work.'"
"One of the hardest things in life is to believe in yourself. When you step into a situation where someone else believes in you and your abilities, it makes things so much easier."
Armed -- or rather, legged -- with prostheses designed for running and biking, Palmiero-Winters took on the running world. On New Year's Eve 2009, she ran 130 miles in 24 hours during Race to the Future, qualifying for a spot on the national 24-hour team. In April, she received the prestigious Sullivan Award, naming her the country's top amateur athlete.
This weekend, Palmiero-Winters attacks the rugged canyons and remote forests of California in the Western States Endurance Run (100 miles), and then looks forward to taking on Death Valley in the Badwater Ultramarathon (135 miles) in mid-July.
What Palmiero-Winters has accomplished with admission to the Track and Field team is historic.
"It's sort of like Jackie Robinson breaking the racial barrier in professional baseball," Roy Pirrung, president of the American Ultrarunning Association and the U.S. team leader for worlds, told USA Today. "I think it's that high of an impact."
Despite her heavy race schedule, Palmiero-Winters says running comes third in her life. "I'm a [single] mom, and I have to work before I do my sports."
She used to work as a welder, but three years ago Palmiero-Winters moved from Meadville to Long Island to head up A Step Ahead's junior sports program, which matches young amputees with elite athletes such as herself. Through sports, she hopes to instill in children a sense of self-confidence they might lack as a result of losing a limb at such a young age.
"I set up activities for them, whether it be climbing or skiing or doing a triathlon," she said. "They might not want to do it, but at the end of the day, they decide who they are, not the loss of their leg."
The children learn to choose their own path, rather than deferring to their disability. And they might just find a passion that pulls them through, as running has pulled Palmiero-Winters.
"Everybody has something that makes them happy and makes them feel good," she said. "If you can focus on that when you go through tough times, it helps you take the steps to keep moving forward."