“The only disability in life is a bad attitude.” – Scott Hamilton, legendary figure skater and Olympic Gold medalist
Great Olympics stories are always inspiring. After all, the tales of sportsmanship, accomplishment against all odds, and legendary achievements is basically what the Games are about. With just about a month left for the twenty-ninth modern Olympics to begin, I bring to you the story of one man, who may or may not make it to Beijing, but has already written a chapter in the story of the Beijing Games. His name is Oscar Pistorius.
Oscar Pistorius was born to Henke and Sheila Pistorius in 1986, with congenital absence of the fibula in both his legs. At the age of eleven months, doctors were forced to amputate his legs, between his ankles and his knees. Growing up, Pistorius represented his school in water polo and tennis, and was also a part of their third team in rugby. In fact, Pistorius made it up to the state level for water polo and tennis. But his participation in these sports was severely hampered, as a result of a horrific injury to his knee while playing rugby.
Undergoing rehabilitation, Pistorius was introduced to running in January 2004, and in his own words, he “never looked back.”
Pistorius made it to the South African Team to the Summer Paralympic Games in Athens the same year. He finished third overall in the 100 meters race in the T44 (one leg amputated under the knee) category. During the preliminaries of the 200 meters race, Pistorius fell and yet managed to qualify for the final. Clocking a World Record time of 21.97 seconds, Pistoius won the gold. But the Paralympic Games were only the start. Pistorius had just embarked on a journey to spread his motto in the world: You are not disabled by the disabilities you have, you are able by the abilities you have.
In 2005, Pistorius began competing against able-bodied runners. At the South African Championships, he came first having clocked the world record for an amputee in the 400 meters (47.34 seconds). The International Association of Athletic Federations invited Pistoius to his first ever International able-bodied event, at the IAAF Grand Prix in Helsinki. Pistorius was unable to attend, though, due to school commitments.
On July 13, 2007, Pistorius was placed second in the 400 meters Run B at Rome’s Golden Gala, missing out on top spot by less than two-tenths of a second.
Even though Pistorius always harboured hopes of one day running at the Olympics, he never stopped participating in the Paralympic Games. At all major meets, like the Paralympic World Cup or the World Championships, Pistorius was a regular at the top of the podium, consistently breaking the World Records he himself had set earlier. Soon, his story was covering several newspaper inches and air time on major channels. He earned several nicknames, like “the Blade Runner”, or “the Fastest Man on no legs”.
Pistorius’ ambition of making it to the Beijing Olympics suffered a significant setback in March, 2007, when the IAAF issued a ruling that banned any athlete using “any technical device that incorporates springs, wheels or any other element that provides a user with an advantage over another athlete not using such a device”. Many claimed that the ruling was aimed at Pistorius, whose J-shaped carbon-fibre prosthetics called the “Cheetah Flex-Foot” manufactured by Icelandic company Ossur, gave him an unfair advantage. Pistorius’ performances were monitored, and it was declared that he indeed did attain significant advantages because of the prosthetics, since he needed to utilize 25 per cent less energy to run at the same speed as other runners. The research was done by a German Scientist, based on whose studies Pistorius was barred from participating in able-bodied meets from January 14, 2008.
However, the German Scientist’s research conflicted with that of Professor Robert Gailey of the University of Miami, who claimed that Pistorius’ prosthetic limbs return only about 80 per cent of the energy absorbed in each stride, while a natural leg returns up to 240 per cent, providing much more spring. Pistorius, and his coach Ampie Louw, used Professor Gailey’s research to appeal the ban at the Court of Arbitration of Sport. On May 16, the CAS reversed the IAAF’s ban, clearing the way for Pistorius to try to make history by becoming the first leg amputee runner participating at an Olympics.
Whether or not Pistorius makes it to the Games is immaterial. He has already personified the Special Olympics oath of “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” He has already become a beacon of hope for so many of the disabled people in the world, and also for all of us “able bodied” people. Oscar Pistorius’ story teaches us that, at the end of the day, nothing is impossible as long as we try hard enough.