Dubbed as the Fastest Man In The World on Prosthetic Legs, Blake Leeper doesn’t let the fact that he was born without legs deter him from achieving greatness. He believes that he may have two disabilities but he has a thousand other abilities that make him special. This is what he embodies and aims to show people as an inspirational speaker, especially those in similar circumstances as he is. In this episode, Blake joins Tanya Memme to talk about training the mind to accomplish anything and overcome all obstacles to greatness, including qualifying as an able-bodied runner in the Olympic Games.
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Becoming The Fastest Man In The World With Blake Leeper
We have Blake Leeper. You’re a Paralympic medalist and world record holder of the fastest man, right?
Yes. Fastest man in the world on prosthetic legs. That is me.
The fastest man in the world. How does that feel?
It feels awesome. I tell people to humble yourself and stay grounded but you put the work in and you manifest your destiny. Every day I wake up, I tell myself, “I want to be one of the fastest men in the world.” I broke the world record for amputees by going 44 seconds into 400 meters. It’s my first amputee ever.
What was that moment like for you?
It was amazing. I did an interview that day and we started talking about the power of presence, of being in the moment. Honestly, it’s having that level of awareness the second the gun goes off and you have to understand I’m running against individuals who have their legs.
It wasn’t just your uneven leg.
I was the only amputee in the race. There were a European Indoor world champion and some of the fastest European runners in the world. As soon as the gun goes off, they take off and I go from blast immediately.
You have a slower start.
I’m running on prosthetic legs. They have their ankle joints to push off on. For me, I have nothing to push off on. They take off and I have to stay patient. It goes back to trusting my training, commitment, and work ethic, knowing that towards the middle of the race, I’m going to catch back up with them. When I do, don’t freak out. Know that this is the plan. This is what I’ve been planning on doing, that I make my move in. It was the last 50 meters of the race, I took off and I crossed the line. I looked at the clock, and then I saw the guys that were behind me. They said, “World record in 44.42 seconds.”
This isn’t something that you expected either. Was this the first time you’ve ever raised like that before?
It was the first time ever running even under 45 seconds. I’ve been running 45 low and 45 O. Relative consistent times, then boom. It was a perfect race on a perfect day. I was relaxed and I let it just come to me. I didn’t force it. I always tell people, “When you try to go and force it, even in running, you tense up and you start doing the wrong things. Relax, stay calm, let it come to you, and embrace it.”
How do you feel about that though, Blake, when it comes to life in general, that whole concept?
It’s something that I live by and it’s tough at times. I was born without legs. The day that I was born, the doctor said I would never walk, fibular hemimelia. I always have this conversation with my mother and my father, “Dad, would you hit when the doctor told you that your baby boy is never going to walk a day in his life?” They give me the same answer over and over again. They say, “Blake, we were nervous at first when they first took you to ICU, but they finally brought you back. We didn’t see all of the stuff that you were missing but we’ve seen the beauty inside of you. We decided to do two things at that moment. One is to stick together as a family and as a unit to the good, bad, or ugly. We want to be in your corner fighting.” The second thing, which is something that I truly believe in is, “We can keep a positive attitude towards your whole situation.”Your adversity is your advantage. Click To Tweet
Your parents are amazing. It has probably a lot to do with where you’re at in life, too.
The mindset that they instilled in me at an early age. I had an older brother and they’re like, “Blake, he puts his shoes on. You put your legs on. There’s nothing different about you. This is not a disability. This is just a different ability.” Once I got ahold of that concept and said, “I maybe look different than the normal person. I may have to do stuff a little bit differently but at the end of the day, I have to wake up and go get it. I got to wake up and go grind.” We all do. Everybody else in this world does. “I can’t let this set me back. I have to go out there and show the world my true talent because I do have two disabilities. I cannot deny that, but I have 1,000 other abilities that make me a special person.”
You’re proving them over and over again every day. How old were you when you did start walking?
I was fitted with prosthetic legs at nine months, so all I’ve known is wearing prosthetics. I started walking around 10, 11, 12 months.
You’re walking like a normal baby.
It didn’t hinder me and people always ask, “How does it feel to lose your legs?” I did have a few amputations and I’ve had a few removals throughout the years, but honestly, I don’t remember either. I was young to remember that. I remember surgery a little bit but the fact that I don’t have anything to compare to, time is a good thing.
Do you ever talk to people though, veterans or anything like that that have lost their legs?
Yes. That’s one thing I like to do. I love to go run the road and travel but also, I love to tell my story. I call myself a motivational speaker but I’m trying to change it to an inspirational speaker. I’m trying to inspire. I want to motivate people. I don’t want to motivate them out of fear. I want to inspire them. I want them to see my story and say, “Blake did it so can I.” My story is that my adversity is my advantage. The fact that I was born like this and the fact that I had to deal with this at an early age allowed me to get stronger physically, mentally, and spiritually.
It allowed me to learn certain tools and work hard when if I had my legs, I would never work as hard. I tell people that all this negativity where men said that this could be possibly the worst thing that could ever happen to somebody being born without legs, when is the best thing that ever happened to me. How many things we go through in our lives that we’re like, “I hate that I’m going through this. Why me? Why do I have to go through this?”
Did you ever have moments like that?
What was it like growing up as a teenager trying to fit in high school and in college?
It was tough. I’m not going to sit here and say it was all sunshine and rainbows. I can remember I was playing tee-ball for one season. I was young, about 6 or 7 years old. In that tee-ball season, I wanted to hit a home run because my dad was a coach. They told him that I would never run, so I hit a home run that would prove them.
You did it?
I did it. I remember this one particular the time I get to the play. I take my three practice swings and I hit the ball as far as I can. I’m rounding 1st base to 2nd. On the way to 2nd to 3rd, my leg falls off. The kids came over and they tagged me out. The ending is over. I have dirt in my face, one leg on, one leg off. I look over to my teammates and they’re sad. They were yelling for me and that was gone.
They like you. They’re telling you’re popular in school.
It was tough. I looked over at my father and he was upset. Not at me but the situation. I remember as I laid there, I didn’t get it. I was like, “Why me? Why do I have to go through this? I don’t deserve this. My teammates have their legs. My parents have their legs. Why me?” As I got older, I realized I was asking the wrong question. I was asking something that I lost control over. The more trials and tribulations that I went through, I started asking why me? I started challenging myself and saying, “Why not me? I’m meant for this. I’m strong enough for this. I’m smart enough for this.” I’m a true believer that everything that we go through in our lives is for a reason. Whether it’s something small and something big, we should embrace and accept that challenge at the moment and we’re going to get stronger from that.
What is one of the qualities you would say about yourself that has gotten you from that mindset to getting through it and pushing on to getting to where you want to go? Because it’s hard to get back up.
A lot of people face a lot of challenges, failures, and mistakes. They go left when they should have gone right. Honestly, one thing that helps me out is the perception and the perspective of saying, “I know it’s tough but it could be way worse. I know it’s hard but I’m thankful at the moment.” When you can change your perception and your perspective and say, “I’m thankful for this, the good, bad, and ugly.” If it’s good, great, but if it’s bad, even better because I’m going to have to learn certain tools. Also, understanding that this is nobody’s fault. The fact that I was born without legs, it’s not my fault.
You’ve accomplished more than most people will ever dream of becoming.
Because I took responsibility. Instead of waking up and looking into point fingers, blaming life, and blaming the unfair advantage that I have been born without legs, I accepted it and said, “It is what it is.” I realized that it’s my responsibility to wake up each and every day to put a smile on my face. Nobody’s going to do it for me.
I know. I’ve learned that lesson, too.
Instead of trying to blame people and wasting our time trying to figure out whose fault it is, you take a step back and accept the responsibility to fix it. Regardless of what happened or who did it to you or how it happened to you. It’s still up to you to figure out how you’re going to get yourself up and keep fighting each and every day.
You mentioned about letting life come to you instead of trying, pushing, making, and doing. I do a little bit of life coaching myself and I find that I’ve fallen privy to this. When you push, try and think, and you’re like, “I’m doing it,” but nothing’s happening, it’s a vicious downward cycle. How do you feel about letting the universe come to you instead of trying to make it happen and control it?
I do this myself especially as a track and field athlete. Every day that I wake up, I’m trying to break world records. “I want to go to the track. I want to run as fast as I possibly ever ran.” The reality of it is I have to let it come to me. I have to work on this first. I have to work on my endurance for a few months and I have to work on my speed endurance for a few months, then I have to work on my speed. It’s collectively a year’s worth of training for this one moment.
You’re saying set small goals. It’s not going to happen overnight.
Set small goals for yourself and say, “I’ll better myself in this now.” You walk away and say, “I’m better than I was yesterday.” For example, my goal is to win an Olympic medal. My goal is to be the first double-leg amputee American to ever qualify for the able-body Olympics.
That’s happening, isn’t it?
I’m trying to qualify to make history to do something nobody’s ever done before but what makes us special is the fact that it’s hard. If everybody had an Olympic medal, able to go to the Olympic Games, could just wake up and make it to the Olympic team and never train, and win a medal for your country, it would have no value to it. The struggle and the process of you fighting and pushing, then when we finally get that, the medal is going to be cool. Being on TV, waving to my family and friends, and making my country proud, that’s going to be amazing.What is your why? Why are you doing this? If you find peace within that, the failure is all good. Click To Tweet
The reason why you see all these athletes at the highest level and they get the championship trophy or the championship ring and they’re in tears, crying and sobbing is because they’re thinking about the process and how special that was. What separates you from being average or above average, successful, and great in joining and understanding is the process. It’s the fact that you tried and it didn’t happen, but you got back up. You tried it again and didn’t go your way, but you got back up and kept trying.
What makes you not give up, Blake? There are times when we’ve all been through hard times in our life. There are people that give up all the time.
I say to those people is you have to refocus your energy and refocus your purpose of asking yourself why you’re doing this. What’s your drive? What is your why? If it’s because you want a big, nicer car or a bigger house or fame or fortune, you’re going to accomplish all of that.
Not sometimes if it’s not the right intention.
It won’t happen then what’s next? You have to ask yourself. For me, I think about all the people who fought for me, but I couldn’t fight for myself, my mother, father, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and family members. I’ll never forget I was doing a speaking engagement in Chattanooga and I was talking to high school basketball guys, but in the crowd was a young amputee. He was about six years old and his name was Charlie. He lost both his legs.
At six years old, he didn’t understand my speech or my points. He walked up to me after the speech and his parents introduced him to me. I have my Paralympic medals and I was able to show them. We had the same type of legs and I was able to pick them up, put them on my lap, and show him. “Look, I’m like you.” He was able to step back and see me take pictures with everybody and listen to my story. That moment, even though he didn’t understand my words, he understood my purpose and my mission.
This deep understanding between the two of you.
That’s part of my why. That’s one of the reasons why I fight hard and when it does get tough, I mentally push forward to push through that workout or whatever because I know the little Charlies out in the world or the next generation may be disabled or facing similar situations. They need me out there fighting for them so they can see my story and say, “If he did it, so can I.” I ask people what is your why? Why are you doing this? If you find peace within that, it’s all good.
Let’s talk about the Olympics. I know that it’s crazy what’s going on in the news about it. What a whole crazy dichotomy of events this has been. Let’s talk about that.
When I broke my world record and I ran 44.42 seconds in the 400 meters, it put me 8th in the world legs or no legs and 4th in America. Not just Paralympians, no disabled, anybody, fastest runners in the world. It was interesting I’ve been planning on this. If you even go back and look at my interviews that I’ve done back in 2011, 2012, 2013, I said, “I want to run in the Olympic Games. That’s my goal. I’m running in the Paralympics and I love Paralympics, but my goal is to run in the Olympic Games. The aim of the fastest runners in the world.” I’m qualified and ran the time fast enough to qualify for the Olympics. About 4 or 5 days later, I got a letter from the Olympic Committee saying that I have an unfair advantage. Are you talking about the guy that’s missing his legs that has an unfair advantage?
What did you do with that?
It was frustrating at first. I trained hard. I am out there working with Willie. Willie Gault is coaching me. We set the mission years back and this is our goal. He promised me, “If you listen to me and you do everything that I ask you to do, I promise you, I’ll get you there.” That’s what we did. We worked hard. We’re still working hard.
This is years of training.
This doesn’t happen overnight.
You get to this point. You race and you qualify and then you get this letter.
I get this letter saying, “Because you ran fast and because you’re disabled, you must have an unfair advantage because no disabled men should be able to run as fast as the able-bodied runners. You have an unfair advantage,” which is the unfortunate part because I trained hard. It’s a battle. We’re going back and forth and trying to figure out what it is going to take for me to run in the Olympic Games. I have nothing to hide. They can follow me around daily. I tell people, “Walk a mile in my shoes and walk a mile in my legs, and understand what I have to go through.” The sores, pains, and aches that I have to go through to even get to the track. I wake up every morning, sometimes my legs are swollen to where it’s painful for me to walk to the bathroom. Sometimes, I’ll be sore. My muscles are overworked where I catch cramps.
These are all things that when you have legs you don’t think about and these other runners don’t think about that either. What are they doing to come up with the decision whether or not you technically qualify?
It’s a back and forth conversation of trying to find out what it is going to look like for me to qualify to have the proper equipment that’s fair in the eyes of the beholders that run the Olympics? It’s interesting because there was one blade runner before me who did run in the Olympic Games and he took twelfth in the Olympics, but after he ran, it’s a case by case situation.
You don’t know yet. Are they doing tests?
We’re doing a few testing. We’re trying to navigate this tricky situation and understand what it is going to take. I’m an open book letting them know, “Whatever you need and whatever it takes, I’m willing to fight this and run in the Olympics.” It’s interesting because I tell people, “Me, a man without legs, trying to better myself and I’m still facing walls and negativity or bad perception and perspective trying to put hatred on me. If I’m facing that and I’m a disabled man, imagine what you’re going to endure in your life. Imagine what you’re going to face.”
I’m a true believer when you hit a wall, there’s the other side of that, whatever you’re going through. If you’re climbing a mountain and it gets steeper, on the other side of the mountain, that’s an indication that a huge blessing is about to come. That’s an indication that something big is about to happen in your life but it’s up to you to keep fighting. What happens is people hit that wall and they quit and they give up. They push and they get a no and they turn around.
I have a question for you. How do you know when to give up?
Honestly, if the mission is right. There are certain forms of giving up but I believe in never giving up on yourself. You might have to redirect the mission. It’s tricky what I love about failure.
This is what the show is all about. I get it. That’s why I’m doing this.
People are like, “Why would you love to fail?” What I love about failure is you’re learning so much about yourself. It hurts bad when you give it your all and you dedicate your life to something. You know that this is your time and your moment and you fall a little bit short. I learned that as soon as you fall short, what you do immediately after failure is going to determine what’s going to happen next. We still have control over that. We don’t have control over life. Life is going to hit us. Life is going to come.
I’ve had my own in my own career, believe me, but you’re saying right after that happens, how do you deal with it? That’s hard. It’s the next day and the next moment.
I tell people, “When you get the biggest failure, you should take advantage of that feeling.” That feeling of failure brings this level of awareness where you’re like, “What did I do wrong? What didn’t go right?” Your thought process becomes supernatural because you’re feeling this feeling of like, “I didn’t do the right thing.” Take that and apply that to your life. Take that feeling and take the energy and there’s fuel to the fire. When I fail, I take that and I get amped up by it.
How do you deal with that? Some of the times, too, where I’ve had my biggest failures, it’s how other people around you respond. They don’t call you anymore and they don’t talk to you anymore because you’re not on the biggest TV show or you’re not winning the races like before. The people that you’ve thought cared about you and you try to reach out because of being a human to human. It’s not about anything more. It’s hard. It’s almost like when you’re knocked down, they put that nail right at it.
That’s one of the most frustrating parts. When you’re on top and when everything is going right, everybody’s texting you and checking on you. Everybody wants to hire you but when things are going wrong, when it rains, it pours. If you flip the light switch on, the cockroaches get scattered.Have the mindset of being the best in the world. What it takes to be the best in the world is looking at yourself and saying no excuses. Click To Tweet
How do you work with people that come to you with those kinds of questions when someone’s going through that?
I honestly say that’s a good thing because they exit out your life for a reason. Your circumstances put them in a tough predicament where they didn’t want to step up to the plate and you get to navigate who the proper people are in your life instead of you cutting them off. The hardest part sometimes is saying no. We try to be good people.
You want people to like you, too. We all suffer from that.
You want people to like you so you say, “Yes, I’ll do this.” “Yes, I’ll show up.” “Yes, you could come.” “Yes, I’ll buy you this.” “Yes, I’ll get that for you.” When you’re going through a tough time, the proper people will step up in your life and those are the people you want to keep in your life.
It’s not always the people that you think.
It could be 2 or 3 people. At one point, you probably had 20 to 30 people calling you in one day but when you’re going through it, you might have two people in your life that reach out to you. They’re like, “Are you okay? What can I do to help at this moment?” It could be a cup of coffee and sitting down with somebody and giving your ears. Those people that step up to the plate when you’re in the fire and when things are going wrong, that’s the people you want to keep in your life. That’s the people that are truly important that’s going to allow you to take it to the next level.
The person who’s training you is one of those people in my life, Willie Gault. Let’s talk about Willie. What is it like training with him? I tried, Blake. I could do it. I lasted three days with him and I was like, “I can’t do it anymore.”
He’s amazing. Every day he wakes up, he said, “I want to be the strongest, fastest man in the world. I don’t care what age you are. I don’t care about the race or color that you are. I’m going to give 120%.” He’s transferred that mindset into me, “Blake, if you want to be the best in the world, there are no days off.” Even though you might rest and might recover, your resting is part of your training. He explained to me, “If you can get to a point where you have never taken a day off, you’re never playing catch up.”
We used to back in the day before he started coaching me, I would run my season then I’ll go home. After the season, I’ll take a month off or maybe two months off to rest and relax because I earned it. I had a tough year. If I would take two months off, then by the time I get back into the season, it would take me about a month to get back in shape. Once I got back in shape, it took me another month to get back into the routine. Now we’re talking about a four-month period that I’ve taken in for myself where he doesn’t believe in that.
I know that you’re training with him and I can’t even imagine what you’re going through on a daily basis.
He gives me a week off all year long. I joke about it but seriously, about 345 days throughout the year because it’s holidays. Once you take a week off, that’s it. You never lose it. It was interesting because he played football. He was a Super Bowl champion for the ‘85 Bears and he’s a first-round draft pick.
He’s the fastest man on the planet over 50-something.
Here he is with twelve-pack. I asked him, “How did you stay in such good shape after you retired?” He looked at me crazy, “I never retired.”
He’s at the track every single day.
It clicked for me. In his mind and his head, he never retired. He’s still training as if he’s going to the Olympics tomorrow. He’s still training as if he’s the fastest man in the NFL now. He’s still training as he’s writing the script for the Super Bowl Shuffle. He always gives me a hard time.
I was at his house on Easter day and we had a barbecue chicken salad.
That sounds like him.
I know that you travel around the world and you speak. I know you have many people telling you to write a book and everything. What do you speak about? Aside from probably a bunch of different things.
The main thing that I speak about is the proper perception and perspective that it takes to be an Olympic champion. My goal is to win gold medals on the track but the reality of it is you should try to win gold medals and the world record. You should try to break world records in whatever you do. If you’re a chef, artist, lawyer, doctor, actress or actor, or whatever it is, you should have the mindset of being the best in the world. What it takes to be the best in the world is looking at yourself and saying, “No excuses.” Leave the excuses at the door. The reality of it is the fact I was born without legs, I have a bag full of excuses that I could throw at the world. People would be like, “You are right. You can take this day off.”
It’s true, but it’s up to you.
The second I look at myself in the mirror and leave that bag of excuses at the door when I walk out the door, you look at them, talk about them, and you can have them but if you want to take it to the next level, you leave those excuses at the door and say, “My adversity is my advantage. The only true disability in life is a bad attitude.” Once you put that in perspective and stay positive in negative situations, your life will change exponentially.
I guarantee it and I promise it because it worked in my life. I was born without legs and I’m able to become one of the fastest men in the world. It can tell me nothing’s impossible. You know this, too. If you believe that you manifest greatness into your life, no matter how low you get, and say, “I’m going to be great. I’m going to do this right. I’m going to succeed in this. I’m going to prosper in this,” that’s out there into the universe.
It’s interesting, too, because I would say one of my biggest accomplishments when I was younger is I was Miss Canada. It is what it is but it was interesting because I wouldn’t say I was the best. You are the best runner but winning a pageant like that, I believe I was going to win. It’s not like I thought to myself I’m not the best or whatever. There are other women that were in the pageant that could have won as well but it was amazing to see how far you can go when you do believe. It’s the power of belief. That’s all you think about it. It’s all you dream about that. Every time you’re driving your car or walking down the street, you’re imagining yourself winning that title.
I believe that I wanted to be the fastest man in the world. I’m already there.
Mine’s already won.
You brought that out there, then you slowly started conforming to it. Once you put that into the universe, then it’s out there and you start figuring out what it is going to take for me to be the fastest man in the world? What’s it going to take for you to be Miss Canada? Once you put that out there, then you conform to that. When you’re thinking all negative thoughts and you believe in the naysayers and the haters, that means you’re putting negativity out there. It starts with the belief inside of you. If you can conquer that and say, “I want to be the best,” and truly believe it, then real miracles start happening.
Blake, I love this. You are a true life master. Thank you for coming on the show. I’m thankful to Willie, too, for getting us in touch and having you come on the show. It’s awesome.
If you want to listen to this interview, which I know I will, we are on Apple TV and EverTalk TV. We’re also on our podcast, Life Masters TV podcast on iTunes. I’m Tanya Memme and thank you for an incredible interview with Blake Leeper.
About Blake Leeper
Patrick “Blake” Leeper was born on August 31st, 1989 in Kingsport, Tennessee. Born with both legs missing below the knee, Blake still spent his young life focused on succeeding in sports. At nine months old he began wearing prosthetics and spent his young life thriving in sports. Blake’s top sport was basketball.
Throughout his entire life, Blake looked up to Bo Jackson. In the 1980s, Jackson played in the MLB with a prosthetic hip, making him the only professional athlete to do so.
As a child, Blake had a run-in with Bo Jackson after writing a letter to the athlete explaining his situation and why he admired the sports legend. At an event in Tennessee, Jackson made it a point to invite the Leeper family backstage and sign any items Blake wanted. Two decades later, the athletes would meet once again.
Following a breakout showing at the 2012 Paralympic Games, Blake was invited onto the Arsenio Hall Show. During his appearance, Hall signaled to have someone bring out Blake’s running blades so he could show the audience how they worked. Expecting to see a producer quickly dart out with the gear, Blake was shocked to see his idol, Bo Jackson, walk onto the stage. The show had planned a surprise, and Blake was able to reconnect with his idol.