Success and Joy – Against All Odds
by Steven Barber
You probably haven’t heard much about an African-American kid named Blake Leeper, but you will! Mr. Leeper’s birth in 1989 in Kingsport, Tennessee was not a normal birth. In fact, only one in a million babies have his congenital birth defect where the legs stop growing below the knees. This would certainly be a deterrent for most, but when Blake received his first set of prosthetics at nine months old, it would not be long before he was literally off to the races!
He has had to deal with the prejudice and stereotypes of being disabled though. His was a fierce, lonely, and often times hostile road that made Blake Leeper the man he is today. “I can remember growing up and kids teasing me ferociously, calling me the ‘half student’ and ‘peg legs,’ and it hurt, but it also lit a flame inside of me to work harder than the next guy or girl, and that has stayed with me my entire life.”
In 2006, Blake happened to walk by a TV broadcasting a show about Oscar Pistorius. Oscar had become the first double amputee to run against able-bodied athletes on a world stage. “I knew at that exact second,” Blake said, “that this was my destiny. I did not know how hard it was going to be to make it happen, but I knew I had to make it happen.”
Blake started on a two year letter-writing campaign and convinced the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) to fund a brand new pair of $40,000 carbon-fiber cheetah legs from the Icelandic company Ossur, the same prosthetics that had been made for Oscar Pistorius. Blake was told to manage his expectations, but he took that as a challenge. Blake decided it was everyone else who would have to manage their expectations. “When I ran for the first time on my new legs, I felt invincible! It was a feeling I have never even dreamed of, and I knew in my heart I could be the fastest man in the world with no legs!”
In 2012, Blake qualified for the U.S. Paralympic Team and was headed to London. He was not only going to be racing for his country at the highest level, he would be racing side by side with Oscar Pistorius on the world stage. “It was all so surreal walking into the stadium for the first time. The enormity and colossal size of the stadium was just awesome; it fueled me physically and physiologically, and I really had my first out-of-body experience.”
Blake made history, winning a Silver and Bronze medal in both the 100- and 400-meter races.
In less than 11 seconds, Blake’s life changed forever—the “American Bladerunner” was born.
Blake’s star continues to rise dramatically. He has been interviewed on Good Morning America and Fox & Friends, and was surprised by Bo Jackson on late night’s Arsenio Hall Show. “When my boyhood hero surprised me on the Arsenio Hall Show, I went speechless and numb. I was unable to process what was happening for several seconds.” It was a moment that will go down as some of the best television in history.
Blake’s journey is in its infancy. He is still 24 months from qualifying for the Olympic 2016 primary games, but should he succeed, he will be America’s first double amputee in the primary Olympics. When I last spoke to Blake, he looked me square in the eyes and told me “Failure is not an option, I will see you in Rio!”
Steven C. Barber