Heather Laptalo
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Keynote Speaker. Expectations Defier.

my will is stronger
than my spine.


My life began with reasons I couldn't.

Due to the four rods that currently fuse 85% of my spine, I am 20% disabled. I’m also missing 40% of my lung capacity. Too fragile for sports. Too broken to run. I will never be able to ski or climb mountains—and the pain will never go away.

After thirteen years of battling severe Scoliosis and Lordosis, these are things my doctors told me. They soon became voices inside my head. But in the crowd of reasons why I couldn’t, there was another voice. One that said, “I’ll show them. I’m capable. I've got this.”

That’s the voice that, six months after my last spinal fusion, told me I could walk a whole mile. When I listened, it said I could do four. Months later that turned into running—yes, running—200 meters, then a mile. Then another, and another. Eventually, that voice talked me into climbing several mountains, then skiing back down them.

Every time I faced the hardest, most brutal, most painful thing I’d ever done, that voice said I could overcome it. That voice became my voice. And if you’ll listen, I’d like to share a few things I believe you can do too.


I’m constantly asking myself,
"how far can I go?"



Beyond being “disabled,” I've been described as addicted to high altitudes, obsessed with open vistas, and a little too excited about heart-pounding suffer-fests that challenge my mental and physical boundaries. I'm sponsored by Backcountry, Therm-a-Rest, and GU Energy Labs. On the (rare) occasion that I'm not running with the Portland Roses, I can be found encouraging others to overcome their odds, find their voice, and unlock their own inner strength.

I've spoken at venues such as The Moth: Grand Slam, AndShe’sDopeToo, the Superwoman Conference, ACT-W Conference, and PechaKucha. My story has been featured in Shape Magazine, Daily Burn, The Outbound Collective and the blogs of Therm-a-Rest and Backcountry


Where will I GO next?

Follow along on Instagram


You know those kids with all kinds of medical problems? Yeah, that was me.

Heather Laptalo Superwoman Conference

“Now this is a woman who really embraces ‘no excuses.’”


“You are a natural at sharing your story, very captivating!”


“Heather Laptalo is one incredible human being.”


I wouldn't be here if I
listened to the "can'ts."




Episode 102: Heather Laptalo on Overcoming the Odds


The Superwoman Chronicles is a conversation project highlighting the work, thoughts and advice of extraordinary women from around the globe to inspire you to achieve more money, success and joy in your professional and creative endeavors.

In this episode, Heather tells her incredible journey to becoming an adventure athlete and elite runner despite all odds. This conversation includes:

  • How she overcame her physical disabilities to become an elite athlete
  • What she learned from this journey of overcoming the odds against her
  • What you can do in your own life to achieve your goals despite overwhelming challenges and setbacks

Dogged Determination: 85% Spinal Fusion Can’t Stop Heather Laptalo From Running.

Heather Laptalo has four rods in her back that currently fuse 85% of her spine and is classified as 20% disabled.  She is missing 40% of her lung capacity.  Despite doctors telling her that her athlete days are over, she has hiked Everest Base Camp, ran multiple marathons including Boston, and went to university on a full ride cross-country running scholarship.  Can’t is not in her vocabulary.

By the time Heather was 10 years old, she was forced to sleep in a heavy metal brace.  It was a cage she couldn’t escape without the help of her parents.  During the day, she ran free as a “normal” little girl.  By by the age of 13, the surgeries started because her spine was growing crooked.  Alienated from her friends for being different, she trudged on through high school with the dream of becoming a professional soccer player.  By her senior year, she had another series of surgeries.  This time became too much to bear.  The doctors told her she could never run or play soccer again.

Drowning in a sea of depression and self-pity wasn’t on Heather’s agenda, so she started walking. Then running. Then running…fast.  Her mantra of “You got this” has pushed her to beat all odds.  Now her doctors say she is a miracle.  Heather just says, “I’m not a miracle… whatever you believe you are or what you want to be, you can do it.  It doesn’t matter what physical limitations you think you may have.”

Topics Discussed in the Podcast

  • Growing up with surgeries, being called “deformed”, and a spine growing crooked

  • How Heather proved her doctors wrong

  • how to cope with limits placed on us by others (or even ourselves)
  • running’s influence on heather’s life (she was told she’d never run again)
  • how heather manages chronic pain and perception of pain
  • power of gratitude in heather’s life
  • what to do if you find yourself saying “I can’t”

my mantra is,

"you've got this!"


Want to have me speak at your event?

I'd love to talk about it. Drop me a note and I'll be in touch within 3 - 7 days