The Magic of Medicine and Running

Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to make him better than he was before. Better, stronger, faster.

The Six Million Dollar Man was one of my favorite t.v. shows when I was growing up. There was something magical about using science and technology to help astronaut Steve Austin not only survive a near fatal accident but acquire what could be called Superhero powers.

Almost four decades later, Oscar Pistorius has ignorantly been referred to as today’s Bionic Man. Why? Despite being born without fibulas in both legs, Pistorius has learned to run and compete against able-bodied athletes. Last month in Italy, running on his prosthetics, Pistorius ran 400 metres in 45.07 – strong enough to earn him a spot on the South African team for this month’s World Championships and to allow him to compete for a spot in the 2012 London Olympics. Amazing.

But not everyone supports these decisions. A few years ago, Pistorius was banned by the IAFF from competing, supposedly because his prosthetics, his blades, gave him an unfair advantage over those athletes running on their own legs. Some claimed that Pistorius’s prothestics were lighter and, hence, required less force; others argued that Pistorius didn’t have to spend as much time with his blades on the ground. Today, despite that decision being reversed, skeptics continue to claim that Pistorius has a competitive advantage.

Nonsense! Pistorius is equal to his running peers. He has learned to walk and move forward on his prothetics, he has learned to run – to propel himself forward and met International Standards. Most importantly, though, he has also learned to listen to his heart and chase his dreams.

I can’t help but think of my diabetic friend who, like Pistorius, has had to overcome physical adversity to become a great runner. By learning to run with a pump which injects insulin when her blood sugar levels change, she has grown into a sub-20 5K runner. Does the pump give her an unfair advantage? One could argue that her sugar levels really never drop as they do in other runners. Like Pistorius, though, she is just like any other runner – only she has fought diabetes and struggles to control it so that she can run competitively.

Similarly, I have learned to run with asthma. Thanks to medical science, my puffer allows me to keep my lung capacity at a normal level. Does this give me an advantage? Do puffers give runners an extra edge? No. In fact, studies have shown that puffers used by non-asthmatic runners result in no difference in their lung capacities. I, too, have had to fight asthma and learn to control it so that I can continue to run.

As our society is becoming more and more accepting of differences, the images of competitive sport can only change. The magic of science has allowed more and more people to be both active and competitive; medicine is opening the doors for many who wouldn’t have had these same opportunities just decades ago.

Pistorius walked through one of those doors and now it appears that he will earn a spot in the 2012 Olympics. Incredible.

One Reply to “The Magic of Medicine and Running”

  1. I loved that show too! My brother even signed his kindergarten papers with “Steve”.

    Yeah, I say let them play on the same fields. It's awesome to see things expand and change.

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