Saturday, August 4, 2012

Oscar: winner

[Note: This essay was written well before Pastorius' arrest and sentencing for the shooting death of his girlfriend.]

The 30th Olympics in London continue at a fast pace, including the Men's 10,000-meter, which I just watched (congrats to Mo Farra!). Cute American gymnasts won in various levels, and Michael Phelps made even more swimming history with his multiple medal wins.

But what really excited me was Oscar Pistorius' historic placing in the 400m men's track race. The South African runner, nicknamed 'Blade Runner,' has already made history with his accomplishments in prior Paralympics competitions. But this year, the double amputee qualified in the Olympics, having broken through barriers and biases in the TAB (Temporarily Able-Bodied) events. The use of high-tech prosthetics were judged to not be an unfair advantage for the runner.

Here's a little bootleg video of Pistorius' qualifying race.

Oscar's also become a bit of a sex symbol, and the attached black and white photo amply shows why. I can't wait to see him compete again, and later in August at the Paralympics, taking place August 29 through September 9. According to a tweet from Xavier Gonzalez, IPC's CEO, more than 2 million tickets for the Paralympics have been sold.

Pistorius has become a pop star in South Africa, where he and his girlfriend appear at many fundraisers and sports events. I might even get cable, briefly, to enjoy the UK Channel 4's extensive coverage, events I can bet money won't be broadcast on NBC. In the meantime, there are plenty of Youtube videos of Oscar.

UPDATE: Here's an additional feature on Pistorius, who, despite coming in last in the Men's 4X400 relay (Kenya was disqualified, and he and three teammates got to run), became the star of the moment, gaining more attention than the Bahamian gold and U.S. silver-winning teams.

Here's an NBC 6-minute feature on Oscar:

What's also fascinating, from a disability perspective, is the American competitors. Manteo Mitchell finished out his preliminary lap on a broken leg. Four years ago, his teammate Lashawn Merritt was shot in the legs in Los Angeles, and struggled since then to regain his before-then award-winning track acumen. All three men are a testament to determination.

Channel 4 is spending millions to promote the Paralympics like never before. Perhaps it has something to do with the UK pride in their National Health Service, but disabled jocks are getting a lot more equal air time across the pond.

If only U.S. media, NBC in particular, would continue this kind of inclusive coverage, beyond corporate commercials that include a disabled athlete to sell you credit cards and cheeseburgers, that would be great. If only we can have an out LGB or T paralympian, I'd be thrilled.
While developing my sequel to Every Time I Think of You, I've been researching the athletic possibilities for my disabled lead character. If you read that book, you know wheelchair basketball is included in one scene.

Could my boys have attended the 1984 Summer Paralympic Games, which were held in the UK's Stoke Mandeville? I'm not sure yet. While athleticism once again will play a part in the story, I'm wary of the "super-crip" cliché, which is a part of many of the other disability-themed fiction I've read.

Historically, the US didn't medal, so I would not want to fictionalize any false victories. Also, they would have had to travel to England, as the Long Island NY events did not include Spinal Cord Injury paraplegic events.

We shall see. I'm just glad I've once again found an issue that's riding a tide of new awareness. Just as injustice, discrimination and injury can't forever limit these athletes, I can't let doubt limit my characters' lives.

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