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09 September 2008

Oscar worth his weight in gold

Oscar Pistorius has just won the 100m in a time of 11.17 at the Paralympics in Beijing – bringing home the fifth gold medal for South Africa. So what makes him tick?

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Oscar Pistorius has just won the 100m in a time of 11.17 seconds at the Paralympics in Beijing – bringing home the fifth gold medal for South Africa in the Games so far.

While there's been much debate about whether Oscar's bionic limbs actually give him an advantage over able-bodied runners, there's one thing almost everyone agrees on: Pistorius is an inspiration.

When he was 11 months old, Oscar's parents made the heart-breaking decision to have both his legs amputated, and he learned to walk for the first time on prosthetic limbs (the alternative was to keep his legs, in which case he would probably have never learned to walk). Oscar did not grow up to be a victim, though: instead, he aspired to become, of all things, a rugby player. When this didn't work out, he entered the world of athletics – and is now worth more than his weight in gold.

With a pair of bionic limbs that consists of carbon-fibre blades, Oscar runs faster than most able-bodied athletes, and is breaking one world record after the other.

Good reason to be mightier-than-thou? Not for this born-and-bred Pretorianer.

When one talks to Oscar, he's down-to-earth, easygoing and warm. He says he finds inspiration in other people's achievements, saying that the type of success or the field in which the success is achieved doesn't matter.

"I'm inspired by people who do well in the things they put their minds to." He singles out Richard Branson, saying that he appreciates "the passion he has for what he does". Another role model is US athlete Jeremy Wariner. "If I see other athletes do well, it inspires me to train harder."

This guy wants to be the best
But matching their successes isn't enough. Oscar believes that if you do something, you don't do it half-heartedly. In this way, he constantly challenges himself to better the achievements of other inspirational athletes.

His philosophy of not doing things in half measures is evident from the disciplined way in which he approaches a normal weekday when he is training. At the crack of dawn, he gets up to eat, gym, eat once more, exercise, train and eat again – fitting in a few minutes to relax, get physio, do interviews and go to meetings in between.

Even though he never seems to run out of enthusiasm for what he does, Oscar admits that some days are better than others. When training, he experiences a bad day every two weeks or so. But this doesn't get the better of him. The thought that there's always a better day just around the corner keeps him going.

The pros and cons of star status
Oscar's top-athlete star status has its pros and cons. He likes the fact that strangers know who he is, and that people come up to him to congratulate him or to wish him luck before an event. "You really feel like people are supporting you. The downside is that you can't party late, that you always have to set an example, and that you have to be responsible at all times" – although these seem to be sacrifices he is more than willing to make.

Jet-setting to athletics events around the world also takes its toll. Oscar misses his friends as well as his brother and sister when he travels abroad. Even when he's at home in Pretoria, he struggles to find enough time to spend with his circle of friends.

"Although it's easy to stay in contact via e-mail and telephone, it's not the same… I just can't stay completely up-to-date with everything that's happening at home."

To stay in top form, Oscar follows a strict diet: seven meals a day, which, all in all, counts for a whopping 17000kJ. Some of his favourite meals include beef lasagne, fillet steak with garlic sauce and Greek salad with croutons and olive oil.

His tips for a healthy lifestyle? Follow a balanced diet, make a point of eating breakfast, do exercise at least three times a week, and sleep enough. "People don't sleep as much as they should. It's important to give your body the rest it needs." He's in bed before 10 pm most nights of the week.

[This is an edited version of an article by Carine van Rooyen that originally appeared in Jump magazine – the magazine for Momentum members.]

 
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