Oscar Pistorius runs for me. He runs for all people with disabilities.
The South African sprinter might not want this.
But he’s my new hero, and he’s a champion for people with disabilities whether he wants to be or not.
Pistorius is not my hero because he has changed history by becoming the first double amputee to run with the able-bodied at the Olympics.
He’s my hero because he is a fighter for the rights of people with disabilities, and we need all the advocates we can get.
Pistorius was banned from the Olympics by the International Association of Athletics Federations because their experts believed his carbon fiber blades gave him an advantage over other runners.
He had won so many gold medals already in the Paralympics in the 100-, 200-, and 400-m races — and set new world records so many times — it seemed logical to the athlete and his coach that Pistorius would compete in the other Olympics.
Yet in an international arena already stained by doping and other cheating, the honest man without complete legs was denied a chance to run. It was declared that those manmade legs gave him an “unfair advantage”.
Thankfully, Pistorius is a man of determination off the track too, and he persisted in his quest. He appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and it reversed the IAAF’s petulant decision in time for the London Olympics.
And Pistorius ran. He didn’t break any records or win any medals in London, but he didn’t have to.
He’s a hero to many because he fought for his rights.
People with disabilities have fought so long, are still fighting, for a place at the table, whether it’s in the gym or the boardroom.
Even with groundbreaking laws like the ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act), people with disabilities endure discrimination, violations of their civil rights, and public shunning. (Although it’s estimated one in five Americans has a disability, there’s still a deep stigma.)
Pistorius saw his father’s wrestling hopes dashed by apartheid in their native South Africa, so he knows prejudice. He also knows how to combat it.
Pistorius is an inspiration to many children and youths with disabilities, who enjoy more accessibility and, thankfully, more technological and medical advances than previous generations.
“You’re not disabled by the disabilities you have, you are able by the abilities you have,” the sprinter told the Daily Telegraph in an interview a few years ago.
It’s a quotation to live by, one that’s blasted from his web page.
He could have added: We are still disabled by societal ignorance and fear — the kind that ignores the pain, energy depletion and other challenges faced by athletes with disabilities while the able-bodied world accuses them of having some kind of techno advantage.
Pistorius is no bionic man, as some national media have complained. Those blades are no more than old-fashioned “peg legs”, fashioned from modern material.
And if all those able-bodied sports officials were honest, it’s not the Icelandic-made blades they fear most.
It’s the sheer will of a man who pushes himself beyond limits in a way that no able-bodied athlete can imagine — and doesn’t whine about what it costs his body and spirit.
Thank you, Oscar. Run like the wind, and fight for all of us.