SPRINGFIELD – Blake Leeper had a simple message to the members of the Springfield Boys & Girls Club: follow your dream and don’t give up.
Leeper is a Paralympic athlete who was born without complete legs. In 2012, he won silver and bronze at the London Paralympic Games and he hopes to be the first American to compete in both the Paralympic and the Olympic Summer Games in 2016.
Leper said that when he was born in 1989, the doctor told his parents he wouldn’t be able to walk.
“He didn’t say, ‘probably.’ He said I would never walk a day in my life,” Leeper told the club members.
A “club kid” himself, Leeper joined the Boys & Girls Club of Kingsport, TN, at the age of 5.
He emphasized in his talk the need not to give up on your dreams.
“Life is 10 percent of what you’re dealt with and 90 percent in how you deal with it,” he said.
He recounted how in a Paralympic competition in 2013 he won silver and bronze medals in individual events, but his goal was to win a gold. He didn’t do that until he was part of a team event and he stressed to the children the value of being part of a team.
He showed the children his racing “legs” and explained how they were made. He slipped off his regular prosthetics and demonstrated how his racing prosthetics fit. He even had one club member try to pull them off.
His talk was sponsored by Eastman Chemical, which operates the former Solutia plant in Indian Orchard.
“Blake is a real example of what it means to have an innovative spirit,” Shayne Cowan, site manager for Indian Orchard Operations, said. “His strength of character and sheer resolve in the face of adversity are to be commended.”
“We are so pleased and excited to welcome Blake to the Club,” Sarah Tsitso, executive director of the Springfield Boys & Girls Club said. “He is such an inspiration to club kids across the country, teaching our youth that anything is possible with hard work and dedication. We want to thank Eastman for facilitating this program. We are grateful to local businesses like Eastman, which understands the importance of uniting health and wellness with education to empower our students to live positive lives.”