Those snug jeans may not get you off the sofa, but I am willing to bet a glimpse of South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius might get you moving. Sure he’s easy on the eyes, and the accent is charming, but I’m a leg girl. I just can’t my eyes off Oscar’s gams. I am a sucker for a nice pair of carbon-fiber blades.
By now you are probably all too familiar with his story. It even made the cover of our own Star Tribune today. Born without fibulas (shin bones), Pistorius had his legs amputated below his knees when he was 11 months old and used a pair of prosthetic legs to pursue sport throughout his young life, including water polo, triathlon, tennis and wrestling. I am not making this up. After an injury ended his high school rugby career, he was introduced to the track, eventually earning multiple gold medals at the ParaOlympics and shattering world records along the way. Now he is competing on the world’s stage against able-bodied athletes as the first double-amputee on the Olympic track. Oh, and he’s pretty enough to appear in Nike ads and land the covers of GQ and Men’s Health magazines. But that’s so beside the point.
Even before the London Games, I was a fan. I followed his story. More importantly, I made sure my kids followed his story. As parents, we are always waxing on about how “you can do anything”, “nothing is impossible”, “can’t is not a word”, blah blah blah. To our X-boxed glued children, we must sound like the adults in the background of the old Charlie Brown shows. Oscar Pistorius says more by quietly stepping into those starting blocks than any lecture I could give.
Unfortunately, Oscar Pistorius’ incredible achievements have of course been met with suspicion. He was banned from competing in able-bodied events after initial testing suggested that his blades gave him an unfair advantage. Following an appeal and more extensive testing, the ruling was reversed when it was proven that the prosthetics give him no edge over his competitors. Duh!
Do the blades give him an advantage? How would I know? Bioengineering is completely outside of my wheelhouse. But let’s pretend he is faster because of those blades. What about the disadvantage he faces the other 23 hours, 59 minutes of the day he is not racing around the track? I am in awe of any athlete than can achieve a greatness like the Olympics, legs or no legs. That we are debating whether Pistorius is unfairly aided seems ludicrous to me. Then again, what about all the debates surrounding Lance Armstrong’s cycling victories. Did he have an advantage over his Tour de France competitors due to performance enhancing drugs? I don’t know. Like the South African sprinter, it has never been proven. But it doesn’t stop critics from saying it must be true. So maybe the debate is a good thing. Maybe by questioning Oscar Pistorius‘ amazing ability, we can finally stop dwelling on his disability.
On Saturday in East London, Pistorius amazed the world when he placed second in his 400m heat to advance to Sunday’s semifinals. My fingers and every other joint in my body is crossed for him. (If you are reading this and already know what happened - don’t spoil it for me and my DVR). Making the 400m finals is not a foregone conclusion and he’s not expected to medal should he get there, but the conversation Pistorius has sparked is golden. As Pistorius himself said, “You’re not disabled by the disabilities you have, you are able by the abilities you have.”
So I am off the sofa and headed for a run, on my two fully-formed legs that aren’t nearly as good-looking as Oscar’s and surely won’t come anywhere close to carrying me as fast as an Olympian. But like the now-famous sprinter, I am not going to waste my ability.