A True Olympic Champion

by Melissa Brunner

Not all Olympic champions are atop the medal podium.

South Africa's Oscar Pistorius is one example. You couldn't miss him on the track. He's the one running with two artificial legs.

He's never known any differently. Pistorius was born with a congenital defect that had him essentially missing his fibula in both lower legs. At 11 months, they were amputated.

He could have let it limit his goals. Instead, he set his sights higher. Pistorius competed in Paralympic events and set world records for athletes with physical disabilities. But he wanted to prove he could compete at the same level as able-bodied athletes.

Therein lied a debate. Do his prosthetic feet give him an advantage? It was argued the shape and flex of the articial feet gave him an unfair advantage over the natural feet and ankles of other athletes. I asked a local prosthetic technician about this and he said, no - any advantage they might give would be offset by the energy stores required of the rest of the leg and hip muscles to operate them effectively. Other scientists have disagreed and, in fact, were the basis for initially ruling Pistorius ineligible to compete in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The decision was overturned, but Pistorius did not qualify for the games.

Fast forward to London 2012. There was Pistorius, on the track, side by side on arguably the sports' biggest stage. He finished second in his qualifying heat, but last in his semi-final. Still, it was hard not to call this any less than a gold-medal moment. The winner of the semi-final heat, James Kirani of Grenada, immediately sought out Pistorius and asked to exchange bib numbers, a sign of the respect Pistorius earned from the world's best.

Pistorius' story reminds us all that we are only limited by our failure to dream and our failure to act on our dreams. He has said it better - "You're not disabled by the disabilities you have, you are able by the abilities you have."

A true champion, indeed.

 

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