U.S. Paralympics Tra... Features David Blair’s Gold-M...

David Blair’s Gold-Medal Career Has Been Better Late Than Never

By Jessica Price | Nov. 06, 2020, 1:06 p.m. (ET)

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.” 

I love sports ... at the same time, especially as COVID has proved, it’s not the most important thing.

He left the sport and became a programmer, got married, and had four children. Athletics was a thing of his past. At the Olympic Games London 2012, Paralympic runner Oscar Pistorius became an international hero as he participated in the 400-meter against able-bodied runners. 

Blair was watching at home. 

“It made something in my head click,” he said. “I’m like, ‘Hey, he has more movement in those prosthetics than I have in my foot.’” Blair realized that he may have overlooked a golden opportunity to keep throwing. 

The thought stayed in the back of his mind until the winter of 2015, when he found out that the current world record holder in Paralympic discus was also the first Paralympic athlete to throw further than 60 meters, and that he had won a Paralympic gold medal with a 55-meter throw. 

“In 1999, which was nine years sooner, almost 10 years sooner, I’d already thrown that, but I’d thrown it with a heavier implement,” Blair said. “My freshman year in college, which was 1994, without question I could’ve thrown it 60 meters.” 

That athlete was American Jeremy Campbell, the 2008 and 2012 Paralympic gold medalist. 

“He’d been dominating the sport for the last handful of years,” Blair said.

But Blair knew that if he could come close to being the athlete he once was, he could be better. At age 40, he made the decision to return to the sport, soon becoming Campbell’s strongest opponent. 

“He beat me all of 2015, which was my first season back in,” said Blair. “But each time he beat me it was by just a little bit more than a meter or less than a meter.” 

The next year, Blair beat Campbell’s world record, and won the Paralympic gold medal. He and Campbell have gone one-two ever since, with Campbell taking gold in 2017 and 2019, while Blair took silver.

Now, Blair and Campbell have developed a friendship and unexpected rivalry. Blair calls the relationship an advantage for Team USA: they train together two or three times a year at the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center, allowing them to simulate Paralympic competition. Blair hopes they’ll go one-two in Tokyo. 

At the same time, “I know Jeremy wants the gold and I know I want the gold, and both of us do not want the silver.”

Blair’s success has been vindicating, he said. 

“It felt like maybe I was able to put things in the right place historically.” 

But there are always what-ifs. What if he had kept competing after college? 

“I could not have beat myself now,” he said. “There’s always this wonder of, ‘I wonder how I could’ve done’ … I try not to dwell on it too much.” 

He knows that he may have come back just in the nick of time — the clock is ticking for him as an athlete in an older body. 

“Throwing a discus is not something that’s easy on your body, that’s for sure,” he said. 

Last year, the wear and tear showed, when he broke his foot and had to undergo a long recovery. Then, the Paralympic Games were postponed to 2021. He compared finding out he would have to train for an extra year to finding out that school would continue through the summer.

Still, he looks forward to defending his title in Tokyo. And while he knows that his professional career may end up being shorter than his competitors’, he has something they don’t: perspective. 

“The perspective of it all is very, very clear to me, having a family and having daughters and having all of that,” he said. “I love sports ... at the same time, especially as COVID has proved, it’s not the most important thing.

“I don't care, sincerely and honestly, that I missed all those years of not competing. I got married to a wonderful woman and we were busy parenting four wonderful daughters. I would never trade that.”

Jessica Price

Jessica Taylor Price is a sportswriter from Somerville, Massachusetts, whose work has appeared in various publications. She is a freelance contributor to USParaTrackandField.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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