At first, I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. Valentine’s Day is supposed to be full of hearts and flowers, lots of chocolate, and telling people how much they mean to our lives. The theme of the day is love, nothing else. So, when a caregiver told me on Valentine’s Day that Oscar Pistorius was accused of killing his girlfriend, I wanted to believe that she was mistaken. In my head, the “Blade Runner” could not be capable of this. Oscar Pistorius was one of my heroes, and heroes can do no wrong. Right?
His girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp was a gorgeous model, and law graduate. She often spoke out about violence against women. She was shot four times in the head and the hand, and although Pistorius tried to revive her, she died at the scene.
Oscar Pistorius made history in 2012 by being the only athlete ever to compete in both the Olympic and the Paralympic Games. Born without fibula bones in his lower legs, he had them amputated before he could walk. He has worn prosthetic legs ever since.
He competed in track events in several Paralympic games but had a strong desire to compete against nondisabled runners. In 2007, that dream was temporarily squelched, when the International Association of Athletics Federations banned him from competing at all able-bodied athletic competitions. They said that his prosthetic legs gave him an unfair advantage over the other runners.
Pistorius fought back. He hired his own team of medical and legal experts to appeal the IAAF’s decision and won. On May 16, 2008, the Court of Arbitration of Sport upheld his appeal, and that paved the way to the Olympic Games last summer.
I had always been impressed. Numerous articles and television news stories portrayed a confident, charming man who knew he had an inspirational story, and he was okay with that. I watched videos of his races. He did not have the best times, but his testament was top notch. He was showing the world that, regardless of struggle, you can accomplish anything you put your mind to. And hopefully, millions believed him and did their best to break down barriers in their own lives because of his example.
Society is interesting, in my opinion. On one hand, people with disabilities are seen as “less than”. For years we have had to fight for equal rights and equal treatment. Although we have come a long way, there is still a long way to go. The whole world will never be completely accessible, and I, in my wheelchair, will never completely be just another face in the crowd.
On the other hand, society also loves a good “overcomer” story. When people with disabilities beat the odds, defy their limits and transform from a victim to victorious, people tend to think that rocks. Those athletes are called “amazing” and “inspirational” and the world collectively gets a warm fuzzy.
When people with disabilities accomplish what seems impossible, I think society tends to put them on a pedestal, so proud of everything they have done given what they have had to rise above. And it is so disappointing when they fall. They fall fast and they fall far, and when that happens, many people are left wondering how they got duped all along.
Are people with disabilities inspirational because they have disabilities? Negative. Most people with disabilities that I know get up in the morning, eat an English muffin and go about trying to live their lives just like anyone else. Nothing incredibly special about that. If however, they kick butt and take names in the process, that effort is what makes them inspirational. Just sayin’.
That is why it was so easy, in my opinion, for America to fall in love with Lance Armstrong. He battled back cancer to win seven Tour de France titles, a feat that nobody had accomplished before him. He beat the odds, and the country ate it up. And he did help a lot of people in the process.
But when some people questioned how he accomplished everything that he did, and they told the truth about what they knew, he sued them for slander and never looked back. He didn’t choose to come forward until the penalty for perjury in his case had expired. No matter what else you think of Lance Armstrong, he is a liar. All his athletic accomplishments were based on deceit. He admitted that. And that has been a pretty bitter pill to swallow.
Now Oscar Pistorius is accused of killing his girlfriend. What does the typical fan do with that?
What do you do when someone you looked up to lets you down? After a while, you take a deep breath, put the broken pedestal into the trash, and do your best to move forward. Maybe they are sorry, maybe not. But that is not what matters most.
I think the most important lesson to be learned here is that sometimes it is best to be your own hero.
You alone know what you are capable of, and the value that you put on integrity and keeping the promises that you make to others.
As sad as it is, other people have the ability to disappoint us. And others may have values that are far different from our own. What causes our disappointment is often not right, but that is usually not the way that they see it. The only thing we can control is our reaction, and putting more faith in ourselves.
Oscar Pistorius is a phenomenal athlete. Presently, he sits in a jail cell because he is accused of murder. Both of those things are true.
It seems to me I need a new hero.
A long look in the mirror should suffice.