Two years ago, South African Oscar Pistorius made history as the first disabled athlete to compete in the Olympics after a lifelong process of beating and fighting against convention to prove that he was just as good as the able-bodied athletes.
Born in 1986 in Johannesburg, Pistorius’ legs were amputated when he was 11 months old but that did not stop him competing. A rugby player, wrestler, tennis player and water polo player, he turned to running in 2004 whilst undergoing rehabilitation following a serious knee injury.
‘You are not disabled by the disabilities you have, you are able by your abilities.’ With his sporting motto and with his ground and record breaking moments, Pistorius might once have been remembered and commemorated as a force of sporting good; however in light of recent events and considering the mystery surrounding his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp’s death, whatever the verdict and outcome, the likelihood is that the South African sprinter’s achievements will be eclipsed and tainted by the events that took place on the early morning of Thursday 11th February, 2013.
…a force of sporting good…
I was lucky enough to see Pistorius, ‘the fastest man on no legs’, running in 2012 – me, my dad and brother specifically looked for his name in the programme of day’s events and we, along with all of the other people sitting in that stadium, cheered him on. It was the Paralympic Games and although we did not see him run beside Usain Bolt or Yohan Blake, it was enough for us, and for everybody else regardless of nationality, that in the years to come we would be able to say that we had seen Oscar Pistorius, the man who defied all odds and overcame every obstacle, reach the level that he always dreamt to reach.
I do not intend to make any guesses as to what happened on that night last February and thankfully it is not something that I will ever have to really think about or decide. The fact that it was a tragedy is more than enough for me – and the fact that it is a great shame, in the absolute greatest sense of the word, is inconsolably true.
…the man who defied all odds and overcame every obstacle…
I remember hearing about Pistorius before I ever saw him running, my South African English teacher told us about the young man who, despite being a double amputee, had turned from being a decent rugby player into an exceptional sprinter. I remember her telling us about how that young man was being campaigned for with supporters pushing for his right to run alongside the able-bodied men and women. I did not know his name then, but the story of the young man who was resilient enough to not give up – even when everything was stacked against him – stuck with me.
A few years later and he ran at the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games –winning two gold and one silver medal and setting world records in the process. Four years after that and Oscar Pistorius, alongside Bolt, Ennis, Chris Hoy and some others, was a face of the 2012 London Olympic Games – a household name and inspiration and, indeed, the flag bearer for his home nation.
…there is enough murder and death and violence…
As the case progresses and before the verdict is cast it is this Oscar Pistorius that I want to remember. You will likely have seen the courtroom videos overlaid with tearful recounting of those events as the camera pans from one watcher to another. But it is not that Pistorius that I would have remembered.
We have enough tragedy in our world, there is enough murder and death and violence. Every day we look at the newspaper or turn on the TV and are informed that we cannot trust our politicians or that it is not safe to go out on our streets. Even as crime falls statistically we worry about it more and more and even as money falls between the cracks and disappears from our hands we are aware that we need to spend every penny that we can to be happy. The old Pistorius was a break from that. He and every other astounding individual proved to us in the simplest of ways that, no matter the adversity, there is a way forward. Look at Lance Armstrong, now deposed from his position of popularity but an erstwhile champion of charity and sportsmanship. These two men are men that, at one time or another, were representative of the highest level of achievement.
I do not think that we should ignore the verdict completely. Just as we should not have ignored that Armstrong cheated his way to some of them. But we should not ignore their achievements either. However the on-going trial turns out, it should still be remembered that just a few years ago, Pistorius was proving that anything is possible.
…spurred on by the actions of Armstrong or Pistorius…
Maybe what I am saying is that, as difficult as it can be in light of certain tragedies, sometimes we might be better off remembering the good that is so shadowed by the bad. How many amputees or disability sufferers, cancer patients and survivors would have been spurred on by the actions of Armstrong or Pistorius – though we cannot ignore the truth in what they may have done, nor should we ignore the good that they did. And especially for those who were inspired and for those who, after watching their hero sprint at the London Olympics, took up running or any other kind of erstwhile impossible activity. We owe it to ourselves and to those who feel like that they cannot, to remember that despite everything else, certain men and women like Oscar Pistorius, proved that we can.