“Disability does not have to be a disadvantage.”
That was the quote from Oscar Pistorius, who made history on Sunday by being the only athlete ever to compete in both the Olympic and the Paralympic games. He is a runner from South Africa, and he uses prosthetic legs. I first took notice of his name in 2008, when he was banned from competing in Beijing. The International Olympic Committee ruled that his prosthesis gave him an unfair advantage over runners without disabilities.
Now I don’t know about you, but if the International Olympic Committee made a ruling about something in my life, I would probably slink away with my tail between my legs and left it at that. I might even be proud of myself for having the courage to take them on in the first place, and start the process of figuring out what else I want to do with my life. That is not who Oscar Pistorius is. When he was banned from Olympic competition, he hired his own team of medical and legal experts. He challenged the ruling, and he won. Whoa!
I saw an interview with him on a news show a few weeks back. My admiration quickly turned to awe. Born without the bones in his lower legs, his parents made the decision to have his legs amputated when he was a toddler. The hope was that with the amputation, he could more easily use his artificial limbs and be much more active and mobile. That hope became reality. As he grew, he participated in everything from rugby to water skiing, breaking almost countless sets of prosthetics in the process. It was while rehabilitating from a rugby injury that a coach noticed his sprinting ability. And that was the beginning of what can only be called a career of spectacular achievement.
When the reporter asked him what it was like growing up with a disability in his family, the young man said “My mother would come to wake my brother and I up in the morning for school. She told my brother to put on his shoes and she told me to put on my legs and that is the last thing I heard about any kind of disability.”
He credits his mother for his positive outlook on life. She instilled in him the philosophy that “the only one who fails is the one who does not enter the race at all.”
What does he say to the people who think he has an unfair advantage over other runners who do not have prosthetic legs? “If that were true, there would be other many double amputees who would be competing in the Olympics.” Good point, Mr. Pistorius. That is hard to argue.
He ran the 400 meter in just under 46 seconds. It is true he didn’t make the finals, and won’t come away with a medal. But in my opinion, he accomplished something much more important. By competing with non-disabled athletes on their terms, he quite literally proved to the world that a disability doesn’t have to be a disadvantage, and he inspired millions in the process.
And for that, I believe he is worth his weight in gold.