Oscar Pistorius is one of the best stories of the 2012 London Games. Yesterday, the South African double amputee advanced to the semi-finals of the men's 400-meters. He'll also compete in the 4x400-meter relay. Pistorius, who runs on specially designed carbon-fiber prosthetics called Cheetahs, is the only amputee competing in London. But he's not the first.
At age 16, Natalie du Toit of Cape Town, South Africa, was already a world-class swimmer. She narrowly missed qualifying for the 2000 Olympics in three events. A year later, she was hit by a car while driving to school on a scooter, and her left leg had to be amputated at the knee. But as soon as she recovered, she began training again, and switched her focus to long-distance races.
In 2008, du Toit qualified for the Summer Olympics. She carried the flag for South Africa at the Opening Ceremony in Beijing and competed in the 10K Open Water Swimming event, finishing 16th.
Her secret? Well, there is no secret, she says, no physical or technical trick to compensate for the loss of a limb. Just hard work and obsessive determination.
“There’s no real compensation. You just do the hours in the swimming pool, you do the hours of racing and you do the hours of mental preparation. You just go out and give it everything. I don’t even think of one leg, two legs. When you’re racing in an able-bodied competition you’re all equal and you go out there and try your best, and that’s what counts."
“Swimming is my passion and something that I love. Going out there in the water, it feels as if there’s nothing wrong with me. I go out there and train as hard as anybody else. I have the same dreams, the same goals. It doesn’t matter if you look different. You’re still the same as everybody else because you have the same dream.”
Note: This article originally had "the first amputee" in the title, but there have been at least a couple others, including gymnast George Eyser, who won six medals at the 1904 Games.