“I deserve better.”
Telling himself that over and over has been something that occurs quite often for Blake Leeper, but not in the way it may appear. Born 23 years ago with both legs missing below the knee, that simple statement may be mistaken for self-pity, but it is the furthest thing from that.
“I have plenty of days when I wanted to give up, whether it was in sports or in life dealing with my prosthetic legs,” says Leeper, who won both silver (400 meter) and bronze (200 meter) medals in the 2012 Paralympic Games in London. “But (when that happens), I would think about all of the hard work and sacrifice I have put in. I would tell myself I have come this far and worked too hard to give up now. I deserve better!”
Doctors told his family that he would never even walk but Leeper donned prosthetic legs at an early age to not only reach that milestone, but also take it further by playing organized sports, as well. As a matter of fact, he played varsity basketball in high school and then began honing his skills on the track once receiving a pair of running prosthetics. When asked about where all of this came from, Leeper didn’t hesitate with a response.
“My inspiration comes from the amount of effort my family put into it to help me be successful, the fact that they never gave up on me is all the more reason not to give up on myself,” he says.
While he was growing up, Leeper would watch the Olympics on television and considered the athletes very special people because of their ability to compete and be named the best in the world at what they do. Now that he has had a taste of that himself, Leeper does not take it for granted.
“To be an Olympic athlete and to be held in such high regard is truly an honor and blessing,” he says with a smile. “There is no better feeling than to wear the red, white and blue on your uniform and having USA on the chest.
“Having the support and respect from your country and hometown makes every workout and extra weightlifting session worth it.”
Leeper is currently preparing for the IPC Athletics World Championships, which take place from July 19 through 28 in Lyon, France. “My training regimen is planned almost a year out from the big competition for the year,” he explains. “Depending on what part of the season it is plays a huge factor of what we are doing. It’s broken down to endurance and the base of the season – speed endurance during the start of the season and while I’m in-season, I do speed training leading up to the event to work on my fast twitch muscles and my frequency.”
If he wins the gold in Lyon, Leeper will adorn the next Wheaties cereal box and follow in a tradition of some amazing athletes before him. But he has bigger aspirations than that and is looking to become the first American Paralympian to run in the able-bodied Olympic Games in Brazil in 2016.
“The perception that people have on others with a disability really inspires me to get out there and do as much as possible,” concludes Leeper. “To change the mindsets on how people see others with a disability, proving to them that even though you might have a disability, you should focus on your abilities and live life to the fullest.”
There is no doubt that Blake Leeper has done that and more.
To learn more about Blake Leeper, be sure to visit his official website, www.BlakeLeeper.com, and the site for his upcoming documentary, www.AmericanBladerunner.com. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.