Meet Blake Leeper. He is the world’s fastest man not named Usain Bolt.
Bolt etched his name in the history books as the top Olympic sprinter of all time after winning the 100- and 200-meter dashes and running the anchor leg on Jamaica’s winning 4x100 relay at the 2012 London Games.
Instead, Leeper is a U.S. Paralympian. He is the co-world record holder in the 100-meter dash (T43 class) with a time of 10.91 seconds.
That same record is shared by Oscar Pistorius, the South African double-amputee runner who just competed in the London Olympics.
Leeper was born without legs and has been using prosthetics ever since he was a child. An athletic kid while growing up, he competed in cross country, baseball and basketball but knew his prosthetic legs were not good enough.
That all changed in 2008 when he got new legs: ones more adaptable to sprinting called Ossur Cheetahs — the same ones Pistorius uses.
It was only back in 2008 when, after trying out his legs for the first time, Leeper first really got into track and fell in love with the sport
Ever since then, Leeper has been making enormous strides in his track career.
In 2011, he was the Parapan American Games silver medalist in the 100m (T44 class). He was also the 2011 IPC Athletics World Championships silver medalist in the 4x100 relay (T42-46 class).
(Each numerical class is determined by degree of disability.)
It was only recently, on July 7, at a meet in Windsor, Canada, when Leeper tied Pistorius’ world record that had been standing for five years.
Leeper will be going heads up with Pistorius in the 100m, 200m, 400m and 4x100 relay during the 2012 Paralympics, which start Wednesday, Aug. 29, and conclude Sept. 9.
The Paralympic Games will use the same facilities as the London Games. More than 2.5 million tickets have already been sold, making it the largest attended Paralympics ever.
Pistorius made history by competing in two track events against able-bodied athletes at the 2012 London Games. He advanced to the semifinals in the 400m and the finals of the 4x400 relay.
Unlike your typical rivalry, Leeper was rooting for Pistorius during the Olympics and drew inspiration from it.
“If he can do it,” Leeper mused, “I can do it, too.”
Olympic track athlete Joaquim Cruz coaches Leeper at the Chula Vista Olympic Training Center. Cruz was a gold and silver medalist in the 1984 and 1988 Olympics, respectively.
“Coach Cruz is humble, super motivating and you learn to pick up a lot of little things from an Olympic gold medalist,” Leeper said.
Cruz makes sure his athletes are training hard.
Leeper usually works out two to three times every day, making him a workout warrior.
And the results are showing. Leeper is ranked No. 1 in the world in the 100m, 200m and 400m this year. He is extremely confident that the U.S. Paralympic team will break the world record this year in the 4x100 relay, with all four runners running sub-11 second splits.
However, his journey to be the fastest Paralympian has not been as easy as it might seem.
“The most difficult thing was the transition,” he said. “It was getting down the technique of running with my new legs.”
But that didn’t stop Leeper from pushing himself to his limit. His advice to aspiring younger amputee athletes is to maintain a positive outlook.
“Life isn’t easy and having a good attitude is everything,” he said. “Try to look at the glass half full, rather than half empty.”
His lifelong goal is to compete in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. He’ll still be relatively young at 26 years old and looking to make a statement against able-bodied runners.
If there is someone who deserves it, it’s Blake Leeper. He’s an optimistic young man with a brightening smile that could light up a pitch-black room.
Look for Leeper to be a threat to Oscar Pistorius and U.S. teammate Jerome Singleton at the London Paralympics. Singleton and Pistorius both got the upper hand at last year’s world championship but Leeper has since made a steady progression and now appears to be the man to beat.
USParalympics.org will be providing live streaming and video coverage of the 2012 American team.
ParalympicSportTV, the U.S. Paralympic YouTube channel, will feature 10 daily videos that will include competition, athlete stories and the opening and closing ceremonies.
The NBC Sports Network (NBCSN) will air one-hour highlight shows on Sept. 4, 5, 6 and 11 at 7 p.m. (Eastern time). On Sept. 16, NBC-TV will broadcast a 90-minute special from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. (EDT).
Finally, if you ended up missing some coverage, highlight shows and specials will re-air on Universal Sports Network and UniversalSports.com.