The part about creating I love most is that I get to tell my story.
Blake Leeper + American Blade Runner
Company: American Blade Runner – Click here for Facebook
Location: Los Angeles, California via Kingsport, Tennessee
Words of Wisdom – “My message is that anything is possible . . . being boring and African American with no legs in the deep south . . . best case scenario is a powered wheel chair. I had to show people through my actions. I had to take responsibility and I was able to become one of the fastest runners in the world.”
Two words Blake Leeper, a United States Paralympic Athlete and 2016 Rio Olympic Games Contender, embodies to his core. Blake was born with a congenital birth defect, is a double amputee and has been wearing prosthetics since the age of 9 months. However, don’t tell Blake he can’t do something or he’ll turn around and do it twice as hard as the average person and most likely shatter records in the process.
It’s 9am on a Saturday morning and I receive an interesting message from Steven Barber.
Dear HDF, would you ever consider doing a story on on the first american double amputee heading to the olympics? He can be found at www.AmercianBladeRunner.com
Ecstatic, I wrote back Steven and said, “It would be an absolute honor to interview him!! Do you happen to know how I can get in touch with him and would he be willing to do this?”
Almost instantly Steven wrote me back a resounding “Yes!”
I had previously heard of Blake and was impressed by his work ethic to take on such a journey into the sport of running, but what I wasn’t prepared for was his extremely gifted mindset. Blake doesn’t believe in limits. He just doesn’t. Need proof?
At birth the doctors told him he would never walk, play sports or run.
At 9 months Blake started wearing prosthetics.
As a child he played baseball and basketball, reaching varsity on his high school’s basketball team.
While just a freshman in college he saw the paralympics on TV and decided he wanted to conquer running next.
In 2009 he received his first pair of prosthetics specifically designed for running and he’s been breaking records ever since.
Blake Leeper | The Queen Latifah Show
I really appreciated the opportunity to do this interview with Blake, not just because of his hustle on the track, but because his character is exactly what HDFMagazine.com is all about.
Blake doesn’t subscribe to the constraints often found in society. He doesn’t listen to the fears, nor pay attention to the naysayers. Quite frankly, I believe the naysayers make him even stronger.
In fact, from a young age, both of his parents instilled the type of work ethic that champions are truly made of so it’s not surprising that he’s going for gold in next year’s 2016 Olympics in Rio, Brazil.
My mom taught me that because of my disability I have to work twice as hard as everybody else just live a normal life . . . My father taught me that there will be times people will feel sorry for me. That they will try and give me the easy way out, and when they do . . . not to take the easy way. I need to work just as hard as everybody else.
With a workout schedule that would frighten most of the general public, I was able to procure this interview, working hand in hand with him and his manager Steven. Blake relayed his thoughts on growing up, conquering a disability, creating the ultimate mindset, meeting his childhood idol Bo Jackson (twice) and his eyes on Brazil.
Here’s what Blake had to say:
Blake Leeper | Athlete + Olympian | AmericanBladeRunner.com
HDF: Blake, one of the reasons I’m excited to do this interview is because I want people to understand the journey from you, directly.
Before we talk about how awesome of a runner you are, you had quite a journey? While you were born with a congenital birth defect, you’ve lived a life more than most. In the video I saw you in by NBC, you mentioned that the doctors told you that you would never walk.
Something tells me that back then your spirit was stronger than they understood.
As a child, at what moment did you say, “I’m going to do this. I’m going to show them. I’m going to defy the odds and reach my full capacity in life.”
Blake: The moment I met Bo Jackscon at 4 years-old.
HDF: That moment changed you?
Blake: Yeah, it was at that moment I decided I could do this. By meeting my hero and having him encourage me, showed me that anything is possible. I immediately knew then and there that I was on a special path
Blake Leeper Age 4 with Bo Jackson
HDF: And you seem very close with your mom. I saw the Mother’s Day video and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a tear or two.
Moms are a beautiful thing, aren’t they? Have you always been close with her?
Blake: I have always been close to my mother!
HDF: What have you two learned from each other throughout the years being that you’re each others’ #1 fans (supporters)?
Blake: Oh wow, she taught me a lot of things at a very young age and I live by all of them today.
HDF: I can imagine! What were some of the things that resonated with you most?
Blake: She taught me that because of my disability I have to work twice as hard as everybody else just to live a normal life. She also taught me that my legs do not define who I am.
Blake Leeper | Photo Shoot
HDF: And you also mentioned your dad in several of your videos. He was your coach, correct?
Blake: My dad was my coach!
HDF: I bet you learned a lot from him at such a young age. What was the best advice he’s ever given you?
Blake: He told me at a young age that there will be times people will feel sorry for me. That they will try and give me the easy way out, and when they do . . . not to take the easy way. I need to work just as hard as everybody else.
HDF: That’s pretty sound advice, I’d say! (laughter)
When you were in High School I saw you played two sports. First, why baseball and basketball?
Blake: Yeah, I played baseball and basketball! I played because my brother played. I looked up to him so much that everything he did, I wanted to do!
Blake Leeper on the basketball court
HDF: Siblings can have that affect on us. What do you think you learned the most in competing against your peers
Blake: That I’m no different than anybody else, and this is something that I strongly live by today.
HDF: So, how did running come into the mix? Meaning, what suddenly prompted you into running competitively? Did you just wake up one day and say that’s what I want to conquer next?
Blake: I was watching a paralympic race when I was in my college dorm my freshman year. Seeing them compete inspired me to become a track and field runner. Right then and there, I just knew.
HDF: When I was going through all the videos that have been done on you, I came across the fact that you’re one of the fastest men in the 100, 200 and 400 m sprints. How long have you been running?
Blake: I have been running for 5 years. I started in 2010.
HDF: Wow!! You must train insane! What’s your daily routine for training? By the way, I love the quote you mentioned in your Wheaties commercial:
With training it’s a love / hate relationship. I love it because I know it makes me better. I hate it cause it hurts.
Blake: Yeah, I train A LOT! (laughter / smiling) – I have about 4 sessions each day . . . two on the track in the morning and evening and two in the weight room in the morning and evening as well.
HDF: So, that’s a really full day! (laughter)
Blake: Yeah, and I also have time for recovery at night! It really is like a 9 to 5 job.
HDF: And then some! You took Silver & Bronze in the 2012 Paralympics? What was that feeling like?
Blake: The feeling of winning the silver and bronze in 2012 was one of the greatest feelings in the world!! All the trials and tribulations that I went thru as a kid and growing up with a disabilty made sense while I was standing on the medal stand. It was a pure feeling of relief.
Blake Leeper running in the 2012 Paralympics
HDF: And now you’re preparing for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, right? How does that next part of the journey feel to you?
Blake: My first paralympic games was like a vacation. There was so much going on around me that the only thing I could do was take it in. Rio Brazil 2016 will be a business trip – It’s a business trip to obtain gold.
HDF: Pure focus!
HDF: In 2013 you were on the Arsenio Hall Show. One of the quotes that really stood out to me was when you said,
Regardless of where I come from or who I am, respect me on the basketball court. Respect me on the baseball field. Then they’ll respect me in life.
Blake, I thought that was brilliant. To me, that says, “Hey, watch me take action first, then you can judge.” What does it mean to you given that you said it to Arsenio? (laughter)
Blake: (Laughter) Yeah, being on the Arsenio Hall Show was a very important moment for me. He brought Bo Jackson out as well. Meeting Bo for the second time, that quote just came spilling out of me!
HDF: Absolutely! This man was the reason you decided to embrace your journey all those years ago.
Blake: It was a surreal moment. My manager Steve Barber planned everything without me knowing it (smiles). After the show, Bo and I became great friends. I join his bike ride every year and he will be writing the forward for my book.
HDF: I heard! Congrats on the book. I want a signed copy (laughter).
Blake, when you talk about running, you’re really happy. Now, I know you’re always smiling and you always look happy, but there’s something about running that when you speak about it, it’s almost as if there’s an even greater depth to it.
Blake: There is. Being able to run is a testament to myself, and the world, that anything is possible . . . and that each and everyday I’m defying the odds.
HDF: That in itself helps lots of other people as well. I can tell you that much!
Blake, one of my favorite quotes from you is in the Wheaties commercial. You said,
The fact that I made it this far running for my country, I feel like I won already. I don’t care if I win any medals from this point on, but I feel like I won in life showing that the odds were against me from the day I was born, but I beat the odds. I truly beat them.
First, thank you! Thank you for being bigger than self. To me, that’s what makes a real champion in life
Blake: Thank you!
HDF: Where do you draw your inspiration from?
The reason I ask is cause I believe we all have greatness within us, but it’s easy to sometimes lose yourself or your way. Where do you not only draw your inspiration from, but how have you kept yourself immune to the naysayers? How have you smiled within the face of naysayers saying it can’t be done?
Blake: I draw my inspiration from my family because they never gave up on me, so I should never give up on myself . . . and when times do get hard, I always think that things could be way worse and I’m happy they’re not.
Blake with Boys & Girls Club of America
HDF: Outside of being born with a congenital birth defect, what are some of the biggest challenges or obstacles have you faced throughout your life that have taught you incredible lessons? Any lessons you’d like to share?
Blake: I have learned the power of perception and how people perceive others that live with a disability . . . and prior contempt before investigation serves no one.
HDF: When did you realize you had a mission? What was happening the exact moment you knew?
Blake: I realized I had a mission the exact moment I received my first pair of running blades. That, and when I realized how fast I truly was.
HDF: And outside of running, do you have any other interests, hobbies, music, things that allow you to create? I know you probably don’t have a lot of time outside of training, but do you have something that allows you to escape for a moment?
Blake: Yeah, I love to play basketball and golf. I’m also creating a CBS podcast with Micheal Rappaport and it’s great to tell stories of other great athletes with disabilities.
Blake Leeper | NBA Celebrity Basketball Tournament
Blake Leeper | CBS podcast with Micheal Rappaport
HDF: I believe we’re all designers of our lives. Creators. What’s the best thing about creating for you?
Blake: The best thing about creating for me is the freedom to tell my story.
HDF: What’s the best advice you can give someone who’s dealing with what would be viewed as a handicap, but may actually not be, and wants to go out make their dreams happen?
Blake: The best advice is that the only true disability in life is having a bad attitude.
HDF: Truth! It’s all about the mindset.
If you could describe the essence of your personal brand, how would you describe it?
Blake: My brand is the American Blade Runner. My message is that anything is possible . . . being boring and African American with no legs in the deep south . . . the best case scenario is a powered wheel chair. I had to show people through my actions. I had to take responsibility and now I’ve been able to become one of the fastest runners in the world.
Blake Leeper | AmericanBladeRunner.com
HDF: What about social media? How important has social media and the Internet played in the building of your personal brand?
Blake: It’s played a HUGE part for me and it’s growing. It allows me to tell my story all around the world. As of current, I have 10k fans on Facebook and 16k on Instagram!
Blake Leeper | Facebook
Blake Leeper | Instagram
HDF: It truly amazes me what the power of the Internet can do to tell a story. As you probably see with what we’re doing with HDFMagazine.com.
Blake, I always ask this next question but in your case you’ve already met quite a few people. (laughter)
If you could meet any famous person (other than Bo Jackson who you’ve already met) throughout all of history, past or present, who would it be and why?
Blake: I would love to meet Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) and spend time getting to know him. That would be amazing!
HDF: Oooh great choice!! Alright Blake, last question. What are your three all time favorite quotes?
The only true disability in life is a bad attitude. – Scott Hamilton
Life is 10% of what your dealt with and 90% on how you deal with it. – Charles Swindoll
If you can’t fly, run. If you can’t run, walk. If you can’t walk, crawl, but whatever you do you must keep moving forward. – Martin Luther King Jr.
HDF: Great Quotes!!!!
Blake, this has truly been an honor!! You’ve got all the makings of a champion, especially the attitude. Best of luck in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
Blake: Thank you so much for telling my story and giving me a chance for my voice to be heard. Again, thank you so much for this!
HDF: My pleasure Blake!!