Silver medalist Akeem Stewart of Trinidad e Tobago, gold medalist David Blair of United States and bronze medalist Dan Greaves of Great Britain pose on the podium at the medal ceremony for Men's Discus Throw - F44 at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games on Sept. 16, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Sixteen years ago, David Blair broke the Paralympic discus world record of 60.19 meters set in 2012.
If the timing doesn’t quite add up, that’s because Blair wasn’t competing in a sanctioned Para athletics event. In fact, he didn’t know that the Paralympic Games existed at all. Competing against able-bodied athletes as a senior at Weber State University, Blair, who regularly threw further than 60 meters despite being born with clubfoot, thought college graduation was the end of the road for his athletics career.
So the Utah native hung up his sneakers and moved on.
“I missed a lot of years of competing in the Paralympics, that’s for sure,” he said.
Today, the 2016 Paralympic gold medalist and current world record holder looks back at a big missed opportunity, the unlikeliest of comebacks, and the years in between that he wouldn’t trade for the world.
“To say that I was perfect at it out of the gate is not true,” Blair said.
Growing up, he never considered becoming a thrower. Instead, his passion was baseball. But when one high school coach told him that it would be easier to get a scholarship in a field event than in baseball, he decided to give it the college try.
“It was fun,” he said. “I wasn’t very good at it.”
The school librarians would agree.
“I actually threw a discus through one of the libraries in the window at school one day,” Blair said.
Still learning to aim, he made a blunder during an after-school practice.
“I’d almost hit this window two or three times. One time I hit the frame of it. And then finally one day I was at practice with my coach there and we watched that discus go right through that window.”
Blair progressed, though, and by his senior year had won a state championship. Then, the coach’s prediction came true: “True to his word, I got offered a scholarship at a couple of schools.”
Blair chose Weber State University in Ogden, Utah. There, he would continue to progress and inch toward the qualifying standard for the Olympic Games. He also quickly put the idea that he was a “different” athlete to bed.
“It never occurred to me that people would be looking at me competing with this deformed leg and they’d think anything of it,” he said.
When his coach told him that he would treat him as a normal athlete, Blair said, “I am.”
“The only accommodation they had to do, is they had to buy two pairs of shoes for me every time,” said Blair, who wears a size 12 on one foot and a size eight on the other.
Ironically, the athlete who was committed to being treated the same as able-bodied athletes didn’t realize he was actually limiting himself.
“I had no idea that my limb deficiency would have qualified me for the Paralympics,” he said. On top of that, his body wasn’t holding up. “I still remember how bad the pain was on my very last meet in college,” he said.
Blair told himself that he had met his goals by getting a scholarship and competing at the university level. “I was done,” he said. “That being said … it was definitely, looking back, an enormous missed opportunity.”