As you all know I proudly wave my South African flag high. I am a dual citizen of both South Africa and the United States (as of several years ago and an EXTREMELY long citizenship process). And so when the Olympics roll around I tend to put both flags high in the air and cheer for whomever is in the race, reppin from my country, at the time.
Except in the case of the 400m sprint. That race is where I am proud to be South African still- because we got to watch a man overcome incredible odds, to be the first “disabled” Olympian in the actual Olympics.
His name is Oscar Pistorius and he is 25. He was born without fully developed limbs below his knees and so his mother made the decision to amputate when he was a child. In an interview on NBC, Oscar stated that he was never told he was disabled, just different. “Mom would tell my brother to put on his shoes, and for me to put on my legs- and that was the last she wanted to hear about it.”
He trained for running with able-bodied runners his entire life. In fact- his first experience running against those with disabilities was at the Para-Olympics in Athens in 2004 when he was 17.
He set his sights on the actual Olympics from that moment forward. Except- he was banned from competitive running in 2008 because other athletes and coaches considered his “blades” an advantage. He missed Beijing- but he was victorious when scientists worldwide, including MIT professors, proved that the technology was not capable of producing the kind of times that Oscar was putting down. That the man himself was the reason behind the success.
Oscar Pistorius has made history- as the first “disabled” runner to compete int he Olympics. But he has done more than that. He has shown the world that there is nothing that can stop you from achieving your dream.
In his heat he placed second with a time of 45.44 seconds- guaranteeing him a place in the semi-final. The “BladeRunner” as he is know competed valiantly in the semi-final, against the world’s greatest.
He finished in 8th with a time of 46.54 seconds.
And then something completely amazing happened.
The first place competitor of the semi-finals Kirani James- asked to trade name tags with Oscar, in a show of true Olympic spirit- and history in the making.
Now Oscar, is not the only example of the “Never Say Die” Olympic Spirit.
Niger’s Hamadou Djibo Issaka had only 3 months of rowing experience prior to coming to compete in the Olympic games. He is part of the Olympics program that allows developing nation’s an opportunity to compete- and he did. He was slow and steady- and he did not win. But his spirit was overwhelming. And it was HIS name that people were screaming for as he crossed the line last. Djibo Issaka had previously rowed in a boat made only of materials found in his home town of Niamey, Niger’s capital. These did not include the modern rowing essential of carbon fibre.
Eric Moussambani or “Eric the Eel” swam in Sydney’s 2000 Olympics. He had only ever practiced in a short hotel pool and he had learned to dive, stroke and more simply from mimicking the American swimmers when they practiced. He completed his race in one minute and 52. 44 seconds. He had to stop at one point, he was so overwhelmed with nerves, in order to tread water before completing his race. But he finished it. And he’s worked hard to not only improve on himself- but to provide swimming lessons and coaching to those in Equatorial Guinea who may have hopes of the Olympic’s themselves.
The Olympic spirit is an amazing thing. It’s a never say die, no excuses, where there is a will there is a way- essence. It is what allowed 4 Jamaican’s to qualify as a bobsled team. (Cool Running’s anyone?)
It is what gave men like Eric and Hamadou opportunities to compete in a life changing and breath taking moment in history.
And it is what drives the “BladeRunner” to promise faster times for Rio, where he promises to be.
This essence is what should motivate all of us. It should make us hold not only our country’s flag high, but also our heads.
It should force us to MOVE and to want to do it- because frankly, if a double amputee, a man who had never rowed before, and a boy who learned how to swim from watching others can do it. Why can’t we?