I watched with awe and wonder as South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius made history on Saturday. He not only became the first double amputee to compete in an athletics event at Olympics, but also the first such person to reach semi-finals in 400 meters.
The 25-year-old Pistorius, who had his both legs amputated below the knee when he was barely 11 months old because of a congenital condition, runs on specially-made carbon fibre blades.
So, like me, I am sure, many TV viewers were inspired to watch him courageously compete with able-bodied athletes with muscular legs; and get qualified to semi-finals with his season’s best timing of 45.44 seconds. The world record is of 43.18 seconds, held by Michael Johnson (1999). So, we can see, he is just a few fractions of seconds short of being the best in the whole wide world.
For a man with no legs below the knee, to even dream such a feat is unthinkable. But he dreamt big. And he gave his best. And that is what matters at Olympics; and, life.
Known as the ‘Blade Runner’, or ‘fastest man on no legs’, he competed in the Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008 Paralympics. But when he really wanted to compete in London 2012 regular Olympics, there was a huge furore.
Some said he is disabled and must only compete in Paralympics. Some said he is just differently-abled and must compete in regular Olympics.
Some said he should not compete because his props give him an unfair advantage. Some said that, in fact, it is this very skill of how he is running with just blades fixed to his knees that qualifies him as an Olympian.
Whatever the case, on 14 January 2008, the IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations) ruled him ineligible for competitions conducted under its rules, including the 2008 Summer Olympics. He had to almost give up his dream here.
This decision was however reversed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport on 16 May 2008, with the Court ruling that overall there was no evidence of Pistorius having any net advantage over able-bodied athletes.
But, although eligible to compete in the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, Pistorius did not qualify for the South African team.
He did not give up. He kept practicing and kept improving his athletic skill, and finally got qualified for 2012 Olympics at London. The power of determination and the spirit of achievement seems so ingrained in his mind that can beat even those with full legs.
This story of success, against all odds, reminds me of the remarkable story of the Indian classical dance aspirant called Sudha Chandran. Even though she lost one leg in an accident in 1981, and even though all around her people lost hope, she had, with the help of an artificial limb, the prosthetic ‘Jaipur foot’, trained herself to become not only one of the most acclaimed dancers in ‘Bharathanatyam’ dance form, but also a renowned television and film actress. Her life itself spawned many biographical inspirational movies.
I have seen Bahrain Disabled Sports Federation doing its best in promoting sport amongst those with lesser physical abilities than us. And this story of Oscar is a great inspiration for the disabled as it shows them that they can dream bigger than Paralympics.
It is necessary that we all look at the disabled as differently-abled. And it is necessary that we encourage them towards their goals. There could be many invisible Oscars and Sudhas out there whom we should bring into light.