As a 22-year-old marine, Ramona Pierson spent most days stuck in an office at the El Toro air station near Irvine, Calif. She excelled at math and was doing top-secret work, coming up with algorithms to aid fighter attack squadrons. Pierson enjoyed the covert puzzling. She was also an exercise addict: After clocking out each day, she would head off for a 13-mile run. Her male counterparts were impressed enough with the workout regime to nominate her the fittest person on the base.
At about 4 p.m. on a weekday in April 1984, Pierson finished her work, went home, leashed her dog, Chips, and set off on her usual run through a suburban neighborhood. She stopped at an intersection, bouncing in place as she waited for the light to change. As she started across the street, a drunk driver ran the red. Chips got hit first and died instantly. The car plowed into Pierson and then ran her over as the driver kept going. Both of Pierson’s legs were crushed; her throat and chest were ripped open, exposing her heart. Her aorta sprayed blood, and she sputtered as she tried to breathe. Just before everything went black, Pierson says, she felt “my life’s blood emptying out of my neck and my mouth.”