Catching up with the 'cheetah legs'
“Accepting your destiny is a huge part of becoming a man,” said Blake Leeper, a track silver and bronze medalist in the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
Leeper has accepted his destiny and has been consistently growing in his achievements. Since the 2012 Games, Leeper decided to take a month to rest, relax and celebrate his successes with his family in Kingsport, Tenn. Since London, Leeper has had some changes to adapt to.
“In London, I would walk around the mall and people would recognize me,” recalls Leeper. “I came home and almost no one knew who I was.”
But when he arrived in his hometown in Tennessee, he realized he was much more well-known than he had thought.
After a warm welcome, he ventured into town where the mayor of Kingsport officially declared Oct. 13 "Blake Leeper Day" and also awarded Leeper with the key to the city. Leeper, after grasping the phenomenon of being a hometown hero, visited the local elementary, middle and high schools to talk to the students about his illuminating journey.
“You always wonder whether or not you get through to these kids, but when I started getting emails and Facebook messages from them saying how inspired they were from my story, I really realized what an amazing difference I was making in their lives,” Leeper said.
He simply wanted to let the students know that “even though it is a small town, no matter what differences and difficulties they are facing, they can accomplish anything.”
Other than receiving the key to the city, having a day dedicated to him and inspiring the lives of future Olympians and Paralympians, Leeper took a trip to Vegas to build his image in the business world.
The Consumer Electronics Show held on Jan. 8, was host to dozens of businesses, organizations and influential people in the electronics world. All whilst meeting Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, and rapper 50 Cent, Leeper proudly walked around on his sprinting prosthetics and began networking himself as a brand.
“Getting sponsors is something I want to do personally,” he explained. “When they can physically see me, they will remember me, and I want them to know me. I want to be household name, and I want to show everyone what Paralympians can do.”
Leeper kept busy educating people on the incredulity of prosthetics when he appeared on H2’s television show “101 Inventions That Changed the World.” Coming in at number 98, he showcased his Ossur “Cheetah” legs which are modeled after the world’s fastest animal’s hind legs.
“I’m just an average Joe Schmoe during the day, but then I put my running legs on and transform.”
These sprinting prosthetics, Leeper says, “keep me on my toes. I am continually gaining energy and always feel my best.”
After taking time off, Leeper was able to reflect and reset his mind on the coming competitions, which he hopes includes the 2013 International Paralympic Committee Athletic World Championships, July 16-29, in Lyon, France.
“I visited the track one day on break and I realized that I met my goal and it was time to set new ones,” he said. “Now I’m hungry.”
Learning about the Paralympic Games just a few years ago at the keen age of 19, Leeper reiterated how anyone with a physical disability can get involved, compete, and overcome the odds and live a spectacular life. He has set his sights high and trains four times a day, six days a week, with the goal of making it to be able to nationals and eventually a world champion.
He is getting back into the routine of preparing for the same intense competition with his eyes fixed on gold, but remembers London every day and the experience he had there.
“Since the Paralympics were started in the UK, they have a higher recognition and support for disabled athletes,” Leeper noted. “I miss the atmosphere and Paralympic fever in London.”
Leeper, through his success and community involvement, aims to educate Americans on the tremendous talent and athleticism Paralympic athletes possess. Gaining knowledge of the Paralympic Games at a later stage in life reminded him of the fact that disabled individuals can be a part of the Paralympic Movement at any time.
“We need to let people with disabilities know that there is something great for them to be a part of and to live a healthy lifestyle,” said Leeper on gaining more participants. He finds it important to let people know the obstacles he and other Paralympians have overcome and let others with disabilities know they are not alone. He went on to say that Americans solely need to watch one race to be amazed and understand the athletes’ constant persistence to be great.
“Paralympics is a movement and I think 2016 will be huge,” Leeper said. "Because it’s more than about Blake Leeper, it’s about the legacy.”