UPDATED 4:30 P.M. Sunday: Jerome Singleton came in fifth in the 200-meter sprint; Brazil's Alan Oliveria upset favorite Oscar Pistorius from South Africa to win the gold. Pistorius ran in the Olympic Games two weeks ago.
Singleton will compete Thursday in the men's 100-meter sprint.
GETTING JEROME Singleton Jr., going never was a problem.
“From the very start, he would just go. When we first did the amputation of the foot and they put a cast on it, he took that off the next day. Just crawled right out of it,” said his father, Jerome Singleton.
Since that first amputation, at 18 months old, Singleton, who was born without a fibula in his right leg, has not slowed down.
By the time he reached high school, Singleton’s right leg had been amputated to just below the knee, but it made little difference.
His prosthesis never slowed him down, and he was undaunted by competition. He uses a carbon-fiber prosthetic leg when he races.
Now, as he competes in the sprint races at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London, which begin Wednesday, Singleton is looking to get the attention of other amputees and those facing physical obstacles and get them moving, too.
It has not always been his mission.
In 2008, when the Dutch Fork native competed in the Paralympics for the first time, he was a full-time student and a part-time athlete enjoying the thrill of competition.
“Last time, it was just something I wanted to do, but I didn’t understand the magnitude of it,” Singleton said.
“I realize now that I have the opportunity to change people’s perspective on life, and I’m really thankful for that,” he said.
The message the 26-year-old athlete wants to deliver is not one he missed out on as a youngster.
Working with athletes and coaches through his position as executive director of the S.C. High School League, Mr. Singleton was well-equipped to give his son a motivational pep talk.
But the younger Singleton never needed the speech.
“If anything was a source of frustration, it was that he would work the (prothesis) so much he’d break it, and we’d have to replace them,” his father said.
Undetered, Singleton always had an outlet for his active, competitive nature. But it wasn’t until he was attending Morehouse College that Singleton discovered the Paralympics.
He pursued success in the Paralympic Games as fiercely as he did his dual degrees in math, applied physics and engineering.
In 2011, Singleton became a World Champion sprinter, winning the 100-meter dash at the IPC athletics World Championships. In that race, Singleton defeated renowned South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius, a double amputee and a world record holder. With that, he had reached the pinnacle of achievement.
That winter, he graduated from Morehouse College and the University of Michigan and decided to make a career of sprinting.
He picked up sponsors, including BP and Nike, and moved back to South Carolina. Now he is balancing an intensive training schedule — under the direction of USC’s Curtis Frye — with various commitments for sponsors.
“Earlier, we had just talked about preparing him so that he could successful in all areas,” his father said.
“As time went on, I told him it wasn’t about him. I told him he’d be amazed by how many people’s lives he could affect.”
Including his new coach.
“I had never worked with another Paralympic athlete, and I didn’t know how I would react,” Frye said. “He’s brought a great appreciation to me. He has such humility, and he’s willing to make sacrifices that many other athletes will not.”
Frye said he was impressed by Singleton’s desire not to figure out how to profit from his talent, but how it could help improve the lives of others like him.
“He got me warm and fuzzy, and I needed that at this stage of my career, to see somebody with that passion, that really just wanted to exhibit the gift that they have, and use it to benefit other people,” Frye said.
“He told me, ‘I used to race for me. Now I race to get on the platform to promote the paralympic movement,’ ” Singleton’s father said with pride.
“When I was younger, I wanted to do well for me,” Singleton said. “I realize now that it’s not about me, it’s about a story.”
“I live my life to create a story that other people can look at and be inspired by,” he said. “I consider myself an ambassador for Paralympics and letting people know all the things that are possible.”
So when Singleton takes the medal stand in London, he doesn’t just wanted to be handed a gold medal. He also would like a microphone.