Sports & Equal Rights: Double-Amputee To Run in Olympics

There’s a been a recent increase in participation in Unified Sports teams, in which students with intellectual disabilities are partnered with students who do not have disabilities. There are now more than 2,000 schools in 42 different states with Unified Sports teams, with one of the largest programs being in Montgomery County, Maryland, where about 100 students with intellectual disabilities and without play basketball.

Over a third of children with disabilities are overweight and programs to encourage sports and exercise can play a key role in helping students learn skills for lifelong fitness and to get in the  habit of daily physical activity.

Athletes of All Abilities Can Do It!

Exercise plays a huge, huge role in my teenage autistic son Charlie‘s daily activities. Record-setting heat or not, he goes on at least one several-mile bike ride a day with my husband Jim, plus a couple of mile-long walks (sometimes sprints) with me at a racewalker’s pace. Charlie enjoys the workout and the sense of accomplishment, especially from the bike rides that enable him to cover miles on miles through his own efforts.

All of this activity has become so much a part of our daily routine that it’s hard to remember a time when when we wondered if Charlie would ever be able to pedal his tricycle, much less balance a two-wheeler. People were glad to encourage our efforts to get Charlie a-bike but always with a little air of “good luck and don’t worry if he never gets it.”

Such sentiments were kindly to hear. But individuals with disabilities, intellectual and physical and of all sorts, can get a bit weary of hearing that “it’s okay if you can’t.”

Oscar Pistorius and the Olympics

For this reason, I was very excited to learn that Oscar Pistorius, a double-amputee runner who uses J-shaped, carbon-fiber prosthetic blades called “cheetahs,” was named on Wednesday to South Africa’s track team for the London 2012 Olympics. He will be the first amputee to compete in the Olympics.

Pistorius has “forced sports officials and fans to reconsider the distinction between disabled and able-bodied athletes,” notes the New York Times, with some charging that his prosthetic devices gave him an unfair advantage against other athletes. After extensive, and expensive, testing, Pistorius was cleared to run against able-bodied athletes by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, in Switzerland, in 2008; he has since made it a point to compete in both the Olympics and Paralympics. While he failed to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, he won a number of medals at that year’s Paralympics and also in the 2004 Paralympics in Athens.

Indeed, you could argue that Pistorius is putting himself through far more exertions than most athletes as track events for the London Olympics are in early August while the Paralympics, where he has qualified in the 100, 200, 400 and 4×100 relay, start on August 29.

As Hugh Herr, the director of the Biomechatronics Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a double amputee, said of Pistorius’ competing in the London Olympics:

“It’s a great day for sports in particular, and more broadly, it’s a great day for equal rights. There’s not evidence that the running prostheses allow him to run at a faster pace than is biologically achievable. To me, it was always a case of equality.”

I’m looking forward to cheering on Pistorius in August, inbetween pulling Charlie’s bike out of the backyard shed and running with him on my neighborhood streets.

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Photo by Stuart Grout


Jude Hand
Judith Hand4 years ago

One afterthought: there are problems with wear on the body with prostheses as well. The best need to be adjusted and replaced over time and the "stump" or other contact body part shows wear and tear. Althemore with the excessive use in an Olympic race. Might that be compared to ankle problems, etc.?

Jude Hand
Judith Hand4 years ago

I'm proud of this man; delighted that he wasn't asked to run only in the Paralympics, which are wonderful in and of themselves. Just glad he got the opportunity and, pardon the unintentioned pun, ran with it. But as I read through some comments, Diane L's mentioning the 'bionic' nature of his legs/feet raises an interesting question.

Lucie G.
Lucie G.4 years ago

they should be applauded for getting on with life and living it. They are so brave and probably suffer a lot of pain.

Diane L.
Diane L.4 years ago

Anita, his lower legs and feet are "bionic" in the sense that the materials used are far superior to human flesh and bone........they're not going to break down, become tired, twist, or be subject to injury from "stress". The size of the "feet" are far more than a human's foot would normally be, therefore the weight distribution is far more "per inch" and the length allows him to cover more ground "per stride". I think that's an unfair advantage. It's like allowing a car with bigger than usual tires to compete in a race. A car with over-sized tires will cover more ground given the same horsepower and the wheels rotated at the same's just plain "pyschics".

Again, KUDOS to this man for even wanting to run and certainly for wanting to compete,but he should be competing against his peers. That's what competition is all about, and what SPORTS and the Olympics were meant to be about.

Scott Leonard
Scott Leonard4 years ago

I recommend you get past the 'Pistorious Factor' -- a 'one-off' brave young man making the most of his disability -- and look at the 'Brave New World' factor. The long term picture -- which has absolutely nothing to do with one guy / girl taking a stance and pursuing it. If we were all ethical, empathetic, compassionate beings we would not be in the mess we are in and there would probably be no reason for 'competition'... or 'war'. There is not a tremendous gap between the two. Indeed, sport (competition, winners and losers) -- for which I am fully supportive and involved -- fills a place in the human psych not dissimilar to war. If the IOC opens this gate they will eventually have to figure out how to close it. Read between the lines:
“This is an intriguing moment in the history of the science of sports,” said Dr. Matt Bundle, a University of Montana professor who co-authored a study about Pistorius as part of the runner’s appeal after being banned from Olympic qualifying in 2007. “An individual is able to use a mechanical device in a way that surpasses the human leg. It’s an important time to note that that’s impressive.”

Anita Wisch
Anita Wisch4 years ago

His legs are NOT Bionic!

Definition for Bionic : Having normal functions enhanced by electronic devices and mechanical parts.

His legs are attached to a prosthesis, with nothing but a thin membrane and cup between the stump and the "leg".

I say "BRAVO" to the Olympic committee, for allowing him to participate in the games.

Diane L.
Diane L.4 years ago

I think allowing this man to compete against athletes with "normal" legs and feet similar to allowing a person who has bionic arms competing in a sport such as archery or weight lifting. Everything should be done on an equal "playing field" and this guy has an advantage, not the other way around.

Diane L.
Diane L.4 years ago

I think it's very normal to cheer this double amputee on in any athletic event, but I must say that I have to agree with Scott L. to some extent. He has somewhat of an unfair advantage in many ways. Runners without prothesis can have foot and ankle problems, trip and become injured. Pulled "Achilles Tendons" are common with runners.........can't happen with this guy.

Scott Leonard
Scott Leonard4 years ago

Have you reached for the Olympics? If not, Pulleez understand the value you place on winning may be considerably different to that of a world class athlete. To some winning really is EVERYTHING. If it becomes impossible for these people to win with, my bet is they will eventually try winning without (legs, arms, eyeballs...) if they believe it will get them the prize. We are a weird species.

Scott Leonard
Scott Leonard4 years ago

Virginia B. -- don't know what your athletic background is. But, it appears you didn't read my earlier comment. When asked if they would take a 'pill' that would kill them in 5 years, but supply them a 'world championship' over 40% of 'World Class' athletes -- in what are considered pro and none professional sports -- said "yes." (I believe, a read of "Radical Evolution," touches on this). You start making advantages 'legal' and those will become abused. They are abused to hell when they are illegal. I watched colleagues chose to cheat. As I wrote earlier, drugs are evolving and a growing issue (some quite dangerous). Genetic Engineering (DNA stuff), has been on the watch list since prior to Athens ('04). Blood doping, cornea transplants, muscle implants... all, are 'old hat.' There are big egos at these high levels of sport -- or any other human endeavor -- that would not allow themselves to be swept aside by a technology they themselves could own. What if someday country, or corporation intent on winning the most golds made it a 'optional' training option to be fitted. Sure... conjecture. Still, your temperance is simply sweet -- but, ignores the reality of where we on this planet are currently positioned due exactly to the type of human arrogance some of the world's most gifted persons personify (the 6th extinction ring a bell?). By allowing disabled athletes -- of which there are many -- to win open medals using enhancements opens a very nasty box indeed. Have you reache