A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Alison and Tim Delgado and their inspiring journey, saying that it would be the start of a series about people who inspire me. There are a plethora of stories I’ve read in Runner’s World and elsewhere that I could draw on, but a picture I saw on Reddit compelled me to write about South African Olympian and double amputee Oscar Pistorius.Now, I could do the thing that most “able-bodied” folks do when it comes to people with a “disability,” which is treat them as if they are either pitiable for succumbing to their state or a saint for overcoming it, but the fact is they are just people dealt a certain deck of cards and dealing with that deck. Disabled folks deserve the same respect and love that everyone else does, and shouldn’t be treated as anything less than, or more than, a human being. Oscar Pistorius is an athlete and human being that inspires me, pushing himself to compete with world-class athletes that have a distinct advantage over him: intact legs.
Oscar Pistorius was born on November 22nd, 1986 without a fully formed fibula in either leg and had the lower quarter or so of his leg amputated before he was 1 year old. Despite this,
Supported and encouraged by his sports-mad family, Oscar lived an active life which led to him becoming a keen sportsman during his school years. Whatever the sport, Oscar played it, with his main focus being water polo and rugby in secondary school. He also played cricket, tennis, took part in triathlon and Olympic club wrestling and was an enthusiastic boxer. (OscarPistorius.com)
He even played water polo and tennis at the provincial level (the equivalent of all-state here in the US) until he shattered his knee playing rugby in June 2003. As his rehabilitation progressed, he started running on the advice of his doctor. In January 2004 he started running on the track and ran (and won) his first 100m race in 11.72 seconds, almost a half second faster than the Paralympic World Record of 12.2 seconds. In June 2004 he was given his first pair of the iconic Össur Flex-Foot Cheetahs and 2 months later competed in his first Paralympic games.
At the 2004 Paralympics in Athens, Pistorius ran to victory (and a Paralympic world record) with a 21.97s 200m, and proceeded to set his sights on competing with “able-bodied” runners. In March 2005 he placed 6th in the South African Championships. He continued to garner accolades in the Paralympics and in July 2007 ran his first international “able-bodied” race in Rome at the IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations) Golden Gala and placed 2nd in the “B”400m. This led to him being invited to take part in a series of tests at Cologne Sports University, where Dr. Peter Brüggemann determined that the prosthetics Pistorius wore gave him an unfair advantage over “able-bodied” runners, using 25% less oxygen than his competitors (See this BBC article for more detail). After this determination the IAAF voted to ban Pistorius from competing in standard competition. In May 2008 the decision was overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, ruling that the evidence didn’t show that he had any actual advantage:
Dr. Brüggemann only tested Pistorius’s biomechanics at full-speed when he was running in a straight line (unlike a real 400-metre race), that the report did not consider the disadvantages that Pistorius suffers at the start and acceleration phases of the race, and that overall there was no evidence that he had any net advantage over able-bodied athletes.
This meant that he was eligible to qualify for the Olympics in 2008, but he failed to meet the “A” qualifying time in the 400m for 2008 so did not make it as an individual nor was he selected for the relay. This didn’t discourage Pistorius tough, instead he turned his eyes toward London:
“London 2012 is a more realistic target,” [Pistorius] said … “Sprinters usually reach their peak between 26 and 29. I will be 25 in London and I’ll also have two, three years’ preparation.” – Guardian.co.uk
He trained hard the next few years and qualified for London 2012. Although he didn’t make it to the finals for the individual 400m, he’ll be running the 3rd leg of the 4x400m relay for South Africa tonight in London (It’s already been run, but I’m waiting for them to show it on NBC) meaning that he has a chance to medal.
This man would not let anything keep him from achieving his dream of being a world-class athlete. He didn’t have legs below the shin, so he got athletic prostheses; the IAAF said he had an advantage because of them, he challenged that ruling and won; he didn’t have good enough times to qualify, so he worked his ass off to become the athlete he knew he could be. Oscar Pistorius is proof that you can achieve anything you set out to do!