Road to Rio Chula Vista OTC Paralympian chases gold medal dream

Phillip Brents

Mon September 28, 2015 10:32am

Greg and Blake

The first thing that strikes anyone talking with Paralympian Blake Leeper is his unabashed positive attitude. It is that penchant for positive thinking that has carried Leeper to the top of his craft: the Paralympic Games.
“Doctors said I would never walk, but I did,” he said. And also run.
Leeper, a resident athlete at the Chula Vista United States Olympic Training Center, captured silver and bronze medals at the 2012 London Paralympic Games while representing the United States.
He finished second in the 400-meter T44 classification event to South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius and third in the 200-meter T44 event behind Brazil’s Alan Fonteles Cardoso Oliveira (gold medal) and Pistorius (silver medal).
With Pistorius now out of the Paralympic Games picture, Leeper has leapt to the top of the world’s chart in the 400 distance. It’s a position he wants to successfully defend at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Paralympic Games.
A native of Kingsport, Tenn., Leeper, 25, was born with both legs missing below the knee. He began wearing prosthetics at age 9 months and became active in various youth sports, including baseball and basketball, while being coached by his father. He credits his positive attitude in life to his family. He said competing in sports showed the community that he didn’t need to be treated differently.
Dubbed the “American Blade Runner,” Leeper made an appearance at the Road to Rio tour stopover Labor Day weekend along the San Diego Embarcadero to meet and talk with fans. The event, sponsored by Liberty Mutual Insurance, also included a meet and greet with Olympic gold medalist diver Greg Louganis, a native of El Cajon, who competed at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles and the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea.
Louganis faced his own adversity while growing up and overcame it to become an Olympic champion. Louganis became the first diver to record a perfect 10 from all seven judges at the 1982 world championship meet and the first diver to accumulate more than 700 points in two diving events at the 1984 Olympic diving competition. He won the silver medal on the 10-meter platform as a 16-year-old at the Montreal Games and swept gold medals at the 1984 and 1988 Olympic Games in both three-meter springboard and 10-meter platform competition.
Leeper made his appearance at the Road to Rio event in the Liberty Mutual Medal Pavilion. As Olympic medals are the ultimate reward for Team USA athletes who have dedicated their lives to their sport, Liberty Mutual Insurance is working with the U.S. Olympic Committee to protect athletes’ greatest reward by insuring each gold, silver or bronze medal won by U.S. Olympic and Paralympic athletes competing in the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games, as was the case for Team USA winter medal winners at last year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Leeper is making plans to insure his Olympic medals through Liberty Mutual, including a proposed gold medal should he win one in future competition. “I want people to pick up and touch my gold medal,” he said. That could be coming soon.
Leeper feels he can remain at this peak for the next five years, which would entail him competing in three Paralympic Games — the 2012 London Games, the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games and the 2020 Paralympic Games in Japan.
Leeper is currently ranked first in the world in the 400 sprint and second or third, by his estimate, in the shorter 200 distance. Leeper timed 50.14 in his400 classification and 22.46 in the 200. He is already approaching a 47-low in the 400.
“I’ve been focusing on the 400,” he said. “The more 400s I run, the smaller the track becomes in my mind.”
Leeper has collected five world championship medals and two Paralympic medals. He made his international debut in 2009 and won a silver medal in the 4x100 relay T42-46 classification at the 2011 world championships. Leeper won the silver medal in the men’s T44 100 meters at the 2011 Parapan Games in Mexico.
He has since tied the world record in the 100 at 10.91, becoming only the second double-amputee to ever clock under 11 seconds in the event. At the 2013 World Paralympic Championships, Leeper was a member of the gold medal-winning 4x100 relay team that set a new world record in the event. He is planning to compete in October’s IPC Athletics World Championships in Doha, Qatar.
Up next are 2016 trials for the Rio de Janeiro Olympic and Paralympic Games. If he can lower his times enough, he hopes to compete for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team against able-bodied runners. His physical strength has grown to match his inner strength