Born without legs, Patrick ‘Blake’ Leeper became one of the fastest men on earth

Ama Nunoo Sep 10, 2020 at 10:30am

September 10, 2020 at 10:30 am | Success Story

Ama Nunoo

Ama Nunoo | Staff Writer

September 10, 2020 at 10:30 am | Success Story

Photo: Boys & Girls Clubs of Ada County

In some parts of the world, when one is born without legs or arms, they are tagged as “evil” children. These children are either dumped in the sea to return to where they came from or abandoned by their parents. Patrick “Blake” Leeper was born without legs but his story turned out different. The double amputee beat drug addiction to become one of the fastest men on earth at the 2012 Olympics.

The Tennessee native was born on August 31, 1989, and at nine months, he started wearing prosthetics. His love for sports began at a tender age. He would play basketball with his elderly brother and he excelled during the games.

It was in high school when Leeper’s athletic dreams picked up the momentum. An aspiring pre-med student who wanted to be a doctor, he chose pre-med camp over playing basketball in the summer.

He wanted to quit altogether to put his efforts into wearing the prestigious white coat but his teammate Coty Sensabaugh (currently an NFL standout) encouraged him to play basketball in his senior year.

Watching Oscar Pistorius’ record-setting performances earn a spot on SportsCenter’s Top 10 at the 2008 Paralympic track and field games, Leeper found his calling. He wanted to compete with Pistorius and win.

A bold and enthusiastic Leeper reached out to the United States Paralympic team not knowing what to expect. Lo and behold, Ryan Fann responded and gave him the necessary assistance to propel him into the next phase of his life.

A young Leeper, still not certain of which path to choose because he was still a student at the University of Tennessee, gave himself a shot at his first track event when he won. The inexperienced and young Olympic hopeful caught the eye of U.S. Paralympics coaches who reached out to him after the event.  

Another win at a major track event solidified Lepper’s stance in the world of track, however, balancing pre-med and physics with his new fire for racing was a difficult one. He persevered, and it earned him a slot at training with the US Olympians in the summer of 2010.

Again, Leeper won at the trials in Miami. He was in the best shape to pursue a full-time career on the tracks. His family convinced him to stay in school although, by fall of that same year, he decided to abandon his dreams of being a doctor. His mother, a nurse, was heartbroken by the news.

“Something had to give,” Leeper said. With that, he moved to California where he trained for a whole year in 2011.

Thinking he was now ready to beat Pistorius, Leeper came in fifth at the event. He said it taught him he could be the best if he keeps working hard. He had his eyes set on the 2012 Olympics and continued to train intensively. To make ends meet in San Diego, he took a retail job.

His hard work yielded immense results. “In the first race of 2012, Blake posted a sub-22 in the 200m — Pistorius was the only other person in the world who had done so. By June of 2012, Blake was tying the reigning champ’s times. Then, by the time the games rolled around, Blake was posted a 21.7 in the 200m,” his website writes.

At the Olympic games in London 2012, Leeper did not beat Pistorius but he won a bronze medal in 200m and a silver in the 400m race.

A chance encounter with Bo Jackson, whom he idolized on the Arsenio Hall Show after his stellar performance at the Olympics, opened more doors for him. Jackson assisted Leeper in earning an endorsement deal with Nike which, according to him, was instrumental in his track and field career.

Like many new athletes, Leeper plunged himself into the world of fun and had “wild parties” with his roommates just a week away from the 2015 nationals because he won with a record-setting 48 in the 400m race.

It is not uncommon for athletes to be subjected to random drug tests. After winning with a 47.9 at trials, Leeper was tested for drugs. Metabolic by-products of cocaine were found in his system which was enough to get him suspended.

He was banned for two years and was unable to compete in the 2016 Paralympic games. He plunged into a dark moment where he muddled in drugs. He got a wake-up call one day and decided to get his act together.

He recommitted himself to training and a sober Leeper attended AA meetings. Being a double amputee comes with its challenges which he overcame with ease. Also, being able to get one’s life together after being addicted to a substance is a great plus.

His trainers and girlfriend kept him grounded. Like South African Paralympian Pistorius did in 2008, Leeper in February this year appealed World Athletics’ decision to not allow him to compete against able-bodied athletes at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). The World Athletics had denied his application to compete in World Athletics-sanctioned events, including the 2020 Tokyo Olympics while using his prosthesis.

He was unable to run during the 2019 World Championships although he qualified because his case was being reviewed. He requested an expedited hearing and is hopeful of a positive outcome.

“Walk a mile in my legs,” Leeper said of those who believe he has a competitive advantage. “Understand the things that I go through as a double-leg amputee. There’s some days my legs are swollen, they’re sore, they’re bleeding, they’re bruised. I can’t even have the strength to put ’em on to walk to the bathroom.

“Anybody that faces a disability, to actually look them in the face and say they have an advantage is just crazy to me. I guarantee if that’s the case, you’ll see a lot more people amputating their legs and coming and trying to qualify for the U.S. trials.”

According to BBC, all he must do is prove to the World Athletics that competing with a prosthesis does not give him an advantage over the others. He is working with the same legal team that helped Pistorius win his case to compete in the 2012 London Olympics.

Leeper’s lawyer, Jeffrey Kessler, believes the court’s need for evidence from his client is flawed and against his human rights.

“The appeal is the latest step in Mr Leeper’s fight for equality on behalf of all disabled athletes who have been unjustifiably prevented from competing in sporting events because of their reliance on necessary prostheses,” said Kessler.

Although Leeper currently has no classification to compete in Paralympic events, he is still preparing adequately to stage a “comeback to the world of track and field.”

“My life is simple: I train, I eat, and I sleep,” he said.

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