I just watched Oscar Pistorius run a 46.33 400 meter race at the Prefontaine Classic. If you don’t follow the sport of track and field (and not many people do), these numbers probably mean nothing to you, but it is truly astounding.
The world record for the men’s 400 meter race is, I think, 43.18, still held by Michael Johnson. It is has stood for several years. Pistorious’ time is a full 3 seconds slower. And in the race I just watched him run, he finished dead last. But he was only about a second off the winning time.
So, why am I going on and on about Oscar Pistorius? He is a double amputee running against world-class athletes who have all their parts. Pistorius (obviously) runs with prosthetic devices, high-tech, specially designed “feet.” The technology is impressive, of course, but still, to run with the world’s fastest without the same feeling (through the feet) that other world-class athletes have is nothing short of mind-boggling.
Ironically, some worry that his specially-designed “feet” give him an unfair advantage over able-bodied runners. I never was a great athlete, but I did compete in high school and I have some sense about what it feels like to run races. While other racers are “feeling” the track through their feet, Pistorius “feels” the track somewhere near his knees. Imagine running as hard as you can without feeling your feet. Even with high-tech running devices, imagine trying to run fast without feeling the timing of “pushing off” with the balls of your feet and your toes.
Perhaps even more impressive was the humility and grace with which he spoke to the interviewer after the race. He said repeated how blessed he felt and how grateful he was to be given the opportunity to compete on this stage. He admitted that, as he made the first turn of the 400 meters, rather than concentrating on his race he found himself thinking how blessed he was to be racing against the world’s best. It was simply amazing.
In the paralympic world, Pistorius is a triple world champion in the 100, 200 and 400 meters. In fact, according to Wikipedia, he holds the world record in each race (you should read the article and see the resistance he has received to running against able-bodied runners, which makes his gracious attitude even more impressive). But on any field, he is a stupendous athlete.
His talent is obvious, certainly, but his character, his courage, his persistence challenges me. Oh, how it challenges me.