“You're not disabled by the disabilities you have. You are able by the abilities you have,” says Oscar Pistorius, who was named today the first amputee to participate in track and field world championships.
The South African native, a four-time Paralympics champion, will race against men with natural legs as he uses prosthetics in the 400 meters and the 4x400 relay.
Last month, he ran fast enough to meet the Olympic qualifying standard, and now he will get his chance to take the world stage.
“This will be the highest-profile and most prestigious able-bodied event which I have ever competed in, and I will face the highest caliber of athletes from across the planet,” Pistorius, 24, said in a statement Monday. “If I manage to make it through the heats, I would be thrilled.”
Pistorius was born without fibulas – the long bone in between the knee and ankles. Doctors recommended that his legs be amputated before he starts walking in order to lessen the trauma later, according to Pistorius’ website. His parents reluctantly accepted and had the legs removed with prosthetics put in their place.
Sports were encouraged in Pistorius’ family and their son’s handicap was not seen as one; he participated in sports just like anybody else, becoming an athletic child, despite having prosthetic legs.
Pistorius eventually became a Paralympian, breaking the T44 200m world record in 2004, at the age of just 17.
Since then, getting into the Olympics was a dream – but he has faced many obstacles other than simply being born without bones in his legs.
Some believe that Pistorius’ carbon prosthetics give him an unfair advantage. Although that has never been proven, it did not stop the International Association of Athletics Federations from barring him from competing in the world championships in 2008, according to the New York Times.
Showing a runner’s persistence, Pistorius appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and won in May 2008.
In the New York Times article, Matthew Bundle, an assistant professor at the University of Montana, said that Pistorius’ prosthetic legs give him nearly a 12-second advantage in the 400 meter race because his legs are twice as light as the legs of a runner with natural legs.
However, Aimee Mullins, a former Division I track athlete at Georgetown and a double amputee who used to wear the same brand of prosthetic legs as Pistorius says that although the legs are lighter, they do not generate nearly as much force, canceling out any advantage due to weight.
The debate on whether or not Pistorius has an unfair advantage still rages on. Nevertheless, he will be allowed to run and he is inspiring people along the way.