Run Fast, Young Man
- By Laurie Watanabe
- Oct 01, 2012
Oscar Pistorius, the South African double amputee who just finished running in the
Olympic Games in 400-meter and 4x400-meter relay races, is preparing to compete in the
Paralympic Games as I'm writing this.
Not everyone is happy about it.
A significant number of people, some with disabilities themselves, say Pistorius should have
stuck to competing in the Paralympics, where he won T44 100-, 200- and 400-meter titles in 2008.
On the Facebook page for our consumer Web site, TheMobilityProject.com, some visitors
expressed admiration for Pistorius. But one commented, “I don’t admire him at all, he is having his
cake and eating it. No one else is double entered, but he seems to be a special case who should
(have) been made to choose. Olympics or Paralympics.”
Maybe people who agree believe that by running in the Olympics, Pistorius implied that the
Paralympics were not enough for him.
To my knowledge, Pistorius — born without fibulae, he had his legs amputated below the
knee as an infant and began using prosthetic limbs soon after — has not said anything of the
kind. In fact, he has been widely quoted as saying he enjoys the Paralympic Games and plans to
continue to compete in them.
Less than a week after he carried South Africa’s flag in the Olympics’ closing ceremony,
Pistorius Tweeted, “Starting to have withdrawals from the hype of the @Olympics. Need to get
back for the @Paralympic Games ASAP! @London2012 is where it’s at!!”
That doesn’t sound like a guy who thinks the Paralympic Games aren’t enough... though it
does sound like a kid who has a hard time sitting still. If you said, “Race you to the lamppost and
back,” Pistorius would probably take you up on it.
In a story published in The Guardian, a British newspaper, feature writer Patrick Kingsley said
Pistorius resisted drawing comparisons between the Olympics and Paralympics at all, saying
instead, “To me, a race is a race.”
So maybe he wanted to run in the Olympics for a simple reason: Because he could. His right to
run against able-bodied competitors had been legally challenged, and he had been examined,
tested and scrutinized before the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled his prosthetics did not give
him an unfair advantage. Pistorius failed to qualify for his country’s Olympic team in 2008, but this
time, he posted Olympic-caliber numbers. He was named to South Africa’s Olympic team.
Given the chance to run, he ran. That’s what runners do.
Fairly or not, Pistorius has become the newest face of people with disabilities. And regardless
of whether or not you agree with his personal decision to run in the Olympics, there’s got to be
some benefit of having the world at large focus on someone’s abilities rather than his disabilities.
Pistorius finished second in his Olympic 400-meter heat and qualified for the semifinals. There,
he finished last, but afterward his competitors said they think of him as just another athlete, not
one with an asterisk after his name.
A race is a race, Pistorius has said. A runner is a runner, his competitors agreed.
So many times, people with disabilities are referred to in the media as wheelchair bound or confined
to a wheelchair. They are seen as the sum of their physical challenges. For two weeks in London, a
young man with prosthetic legs had people around the world focusing on what he could do instead
of what they thought he could not do. And maybe they will apply their new understanding to other
Paralympians as well as to people with disabilities who are not elite athletes.
Regardless of how we feel about the personal choices Oscar has made, surely the education
he’s given the world is a step forward.
“This guy can do anything,“ another of our Facebook visitors said. May society now see all
people with disabilities in this brand-new, much more accurate light.
This article originally appeared in the October 2012 issue of Mobility Management.
Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.