The Oscar Pistorius Story: How He Lost His Legs
Oscar Pistorius, born in 1986 in Johannesburg, South Africa, was the second child of Henke and Sheila Pistorius a prominent middle–class family. He possesses Italian heritage through his mother, whose grandfather was a pure–blood Italian who immigrated to Kenya. Oscar has two siblings; his elder brother, Carl and his younger sister, Aimee.
Due to the congenital absence of the fibula in both of his legs, Oscar’s legs had to be amputated. The parts between the ankles and the knees were cut off when he was only 11 months old. Although Oscar’s physical condition devastated his parents, they continued to support and love their child, devoting much of their time to his well-being.
Growing up in a Christian home helped Oscar cope with normal kids despite his disability, and he was further encouraged by his parents; especially his mother, who Oscar says during interviews, had a very powerful and major impact in his life. However, his parents divorced when he was 6 years old, leaving Oscar to his mother.
Some Facts: Life as a Kid with No Legs
Oscar’s disability did not stop him from playing sports, which many who knew him observed to be one of his passions in life. Even in his elementary years, when he attended the Constantia Kloof Primary, he was already playing sports, such as rugby, with his schoolmates.
From ages 11 to 13, Oscar engaged in various sports activities while studying at the Pretoria Boys High School. He joined the school’s third XV team and played rugby union, and played water polo and tennis at a provincial level. Oscar also participated in the school’s Olympic wrestling club, training at Janine Brook’s garage gym.
When he was 15 years old, Oscar’s mother Sheila Pistorius died due to drug complications. This was a traumatic experience to Oscar, who greatly valued his mother. This event would later on fuel Oscar’s passion for running.
During a rugby union match in June 2003, Oscar was seriously injured and had to stop engaging in sports for a period of time. He underwent rehabilitation at the University of Pretoria’s High Performance Center the following year. In one of his rehabilitation sessions in 2004, Oscar met Coach Ampie Louw and was introduced to running for the first time. In one of his interviews, Oscar said that from that moment on, he “never looked back.”
Becoming the Blade Runner
In order to start running, Oscar had his legs fitted with prosthetic racing blades, which was first designed by Francois van der Watt, a South African prosthetist. Finding good running blades in Pretoria was a problem that van der Watt encountered, prompting him to have them constructed by a local engineer in the city. The running blades, however, did not work well as expected as they easily broke every time Oscar would try to run in them. Because of this, van der Watt referred Oscar to Brian Frasure, a prosthetist in America and a Paralympic sprinter, so he could acquire running blades for Oscar from Ossur, an Icelandic blade manufacturing company.
After getting good running blades and receiving proper training, Oscar participated in the 2004 Summer Paralympics and won third place in the 100–meter event. Oscar failed the preliminary rounds for the 200–meter event but succeeded in qualifying for the finals. In fact, Oscar won the final and started a new world record of finishing in 21.97 seconds, defeating American runners such as Brian Frasure, who was only disabled in one of his legs.
Oscar Pistorius’ career got further boost in 2005, when he joined the 400–meter dash event of the 2005 South African championships for able–bodied athletes and came in sixth. He also won gold medals for the 10–meter and 200–meter events in the 2005 Paralympic World Cup, beating his earlier record (he finished the 200–meter event in 22.01 seconds, more than a second faster than his previous year’s win).
In 2006, Oscar not only dominated in the 100–meter and 200–meter events of the 2006 Paralympic Athletics World Championships, but he also set off a new record in the 400–meter event. It was also in that same year that Oscar entered the University of Pretoria to begin studying Bachelor of Commerce in Business Management with Sports Science. However, due to his rigorous and hectic training schedules, Oscar has stated that he is not expecting to graduate any sooner. In one of his interviews, Oscar joked that by the time he reaches 30, he hopes that he would have finished studying.
The Runner with No Legs Sets Records
In 2007, Oscar set new world records for the 100–meter, 200–meter and 400–meter events at different sporting championships such as the South African Senior Athletics Championships and the Nedbank Championships for the Physically Disabled. In July of that year, Oscar was invited in what was supposed to be his first international able–bodied event by the IAAF; however, he wasn’t able to participate due to his school commitments.
Oscar participated in several sporting events such as the Golden Gala in Rome and the Norwich Union British Grand Prix. Despite being the seventh runner, Oscar was disqualified for running out of his lane. Despite this loss, it was in this year that Oscar was presented with the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Helen Rollason Award, which is given to people who in the face of challenges in adversities exhibit outstanding courage.
Oscar Pistorius was aspiring to compete in the 2008 Summer Olympics and tried to be a part of the athletic team that South Africa was forming to participate; however, he failed to do so when he did not meet the minimum Olympic qualification time of 45.55 seconds during the Notturna International in Milan: Oscar’s finishing time was 47.78 seconds. In the next race Oscar finished at a faster time of 46.62 seconds, but was ultimately rejected by the IAAF committee due to not meeting the qualifying time. Despite the disappointment, Oscar did not stop competing.
In the 2008 Summer Paralympics, he won gold medals in the 100–meter, 200–meter and 400–meter events, beating his previous records and winning against well–known competitors such as Jerome Singleton. It was also in this year that Oscar Pistorius collaborated in the music CD “Olympic Dream” release. He provided voiceovers for two tracks that were written specifically for him—“Olympic Dream” and “Run Boy Run.”
In 2009, Oscar was involved in an accident on the Vaal River where he had to undergo surgery for the injuries he received after being thrown away from the boat he was riding. This accident prevented him from participating in any competitions for that year and the following.
A slimmer Oscar won three gold medals in the IPC Athletics World Championships in 2011, but received his first defeat in the 100–meter event by American runner Jerome Singleton, who Oscar defeated previously. During the course of this year Oscar participated in several able–bodied running competitions and was finally able to reach the 45.07 second Olympic qualifying mark, which Oscar kept as a personal best.
At the World Championships held in South Korea, Oscar was able to qualify for the semi–final stages of the 400–meter event, but was eventually eliminated after finishing 46.19 seconds. He was also removed from joining the 4 x 400 meter relay finals. This disappointment caused a great deal of distress for Oscar, who believed that he deserved to be a part of the event. Nevertheless, Oscar won a silver medal, the first ever medal that an amputee has ever received in an able–bodied competition.
Qualifying for the Summer Olympics
In July 2012, Oscar’s dream of competing in the Olympics was finally fulfilled when the SASCOC (South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee) announced his inclusion in the Olympic team. During the Olympic Games, Oscar, who competed in both the 400–meter and 4x400–meter events did well, finishing eighth in the first event and ran the final leg for the second event. He also carried the South African flag during the closing ceremony.
In the 2012 Summer Paralympics Oscar won gold for the 400–meter event but lost to Brazilian runner Alan Oliveira for the 200–meter event and received a silver medal. He made a controversial claim on Oliveira's lengthened running blades, which the SASCOC and IPC supported, promising to discuss issues regarding lengthened prosthetics with him once the games were over.
Oscar also won a gold medal for the 4x100 meter event and broke the Paralympic record after finishing with a time of 46.68 seconds. After the Summer Paralympics, an announcement was made by Jim McDonald, the Principal and Vice Chancellor of the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow that the school was going to confer an honorary doctorate to Oscar Pistorius. He stated:
"Each of our honorary graduands has excelled in their chosen field, and each has touched the lives of many others around the world. As a leading international technological university committed to excellence, it is fitting that we recognise their inspiring achievements and we look forward to welcoming them to the university in November."
Oscar Pistorius appeared on Jay Leno’s ‘Tonight Show’. He has also made several television guest appearances in the past years on shows such as Ballando con le Stelle (an Italian version of the well-known ‘Dance With the Stars’ show) and L’isola dei famosi (Italian version of Celebrity Survivor).
Recently, Oscar has had the opportunity to race against a horse in a 100–meter event in Qatar. Amazingly, Oscar defeated the horse which clearly fell behind him. In an interview after the race, Oscar said:
"It wasn't about who won today, it was just about coming out here and really just showing people that those with disabilities are not to be stereotyped against."
Oscar Pistorius is going to compete in the athletic events in March next year which will be held in Sydney and Perth.
Achievements and Awards
- 2004: Won gold medal on 100m class T44 event, USA
- 2004: Won gold medal on 200m class T44 event, USA
- 2004: Won bronze medal on 100m class T44 event during the Summer Paralympics in Athens, Greece
- 2004: Won gold medal on 200m class T44 event during the Summer Paralympics in Athens, Greece
- 2005: Won gold medal on 100m class T44 event during the Visa Paralympic World Cup championships in England, U.K.
- 2005: Won gold medal on 200m class T44 event during the Visa Paralympic World Cup championships in England, U.K.
- 2006: Won gold medal on 100m class T44 event during the IPC World Championships at Assen, Netherlands
- 2006: Won gold medal on 200m class T44 event during the IPC World Championships at Assen, Netherlands
- 2006: Conferred the Order of Ikhamanga in Bronze by the President of South Africa
- 2007: Won gold medal on 200m class T44 event during the Nedbank Championships for the physically disabled at Gauteng, South Africa
- 2007: Won gold medal on 200m class T44 event during the Nedbank Championships for the physically disabled at Gauteng, South Africa
- 2007: Won silver medal on 400m event during the Senior South African National Championships in Durban, South Africa
- 2007: Received the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Helen Rollason Award
- 2008: Won gold medal on 100m class T44 event during the Summer Paralympics at Beijing, China
- 2008: Won gold medal on 100m class T44 event during the Sportsfest at Duisburg, Germany
- 2008: Won gold medal on 100m class T44 event during the Dutch Open National Championships at Emmeloord, Netherlands
- 2008: Won gold medal on 200m class T44 event during the Summer Paralympics at Beijing, China
- 2008: Won gold medal on 200m class T44 event during the German Open National Championships at Berlin, Germany
- 2008: Won gold medal on 200m class T44 event during the Dutch Open National Championships at Emmeloord, Netherlands
- 2008: Won gold medal on 400m class T44 event during the Summer Paralympics at Beijing, China
- 2008: Won gold medal on 400m class T44 event during the Dutch Open National Championships at Emmeloord, Netherlands
- 2008: Included in the Time 100 list of the world’s most influential people
- 2011: Won gold medal on 100m class T44 event during the IPC World Championships in Christchurch, New Zealand
- 2011: Won gold medal on 200m class T44 event during the IPC World Championships in Christchurch, New Zealand
- 2011: Won gold medal on 400m class T44 event during the IPC World Championships in Christchurch, New Zealand
- 2011: Won gold medal on 4 x 100m class T42-T46 event during the IPC World Championships in Christchurch, New Zealand
- 2011: Won first place on 400m event during the Meeting Internazionale di Atletica Sports Solidarity at Lignano, Italy
- 2011: Won silver medal on 4 x 400m relay event during the World Championships in Athletics at Daegu, South Korea
- 2012: Won gold medal on 400m class T44 event during the Summer Paralympics at London, United Kingdom
- 2012: Won gold medal on 4 x 100m class T42-T46 event during the Summer Paralympics at London, United Kingdom
- 2012: Won 16th place on the first round of the 400m event during the London Olympics at London, United Kingdom
- 2012: Won silver medal on 400m event during the African Championships in Athletics at Porto-Novo, Benin
- 2012: Won silver medal on 4 x 400m relay event during the African Championships in Athletics at Porto-Novo, Benin
- 2012: Received the Laureus World Sports Award for Sportsperson of the Year with a Disability
- 2012: Received the Sports Industry Awards for the Outstanding Contribution to South African Sport
- 2012: Honorary Doctorate at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- Mine Seeker Foundation
- Olympic Dream (a 2008 music CD release)
- Thierry Mugler