There are reasons not to feel proud about being a South African, the most egregious being the legacy of apartheid, of course. But there are also reasons to be very proud, like the iconic Nelson Mandela and the peaceful transition to democracy in the 1990s. Now, add another reason: the 25 year old Olympian, Oscar Pistorius, or “Blade Runner”, as he’s also called. This weekend, he became the first double amputee to compete in the Olympic Games by running the men’s 400-meter race. And, although he didn’t win a medal, he says that having the opportunity to represent his country in the Olympics “far surpassed” his expectations.
It’s not just his talent, his courage and his engaging smile that make Oscar Pistorius a truly special person, but also the way he has refused to consider himself disadvantaged. This, I think, is largely due to his extraordinary parents. When he was born without fibulae, they refused to treat him any differently. When Oscar commented as a boy that he didn’t make footprints in the sea-sand the way other children did, his mother said his prints were “better.” In the mornings she would say it was time for Oscar’s brother to put on his shoes and for him to put on his legs.
Learning Oscar Pistorius’s story made me think of an essay on blindness by the Argentinean writer, Jorge Luis Borges, who wrote of his disability as if it were an advantage–as if it gave him opportunities and insights that others didn’t have. In the music world, there’s the blind Frederick Delius, who continued composing with the help of an amanuensis, and the deaf Beethoven who came close to despair in 1802 and then went on to compose his greatest works. The courage of these people is a really salutary lesson!Beethoven, Delius, olympics