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The South African athlete was at the height of sporting fame when he shot dead TV star Reeva Steenkamp, his girlfriend of four months, on Valentine’s Day in 2013. His legacy is being analysed in the documentary The Trials of Oscar Pistorius, which airs on the BBC tonight. The sportsman became known as ‘Blade Runner’ for his success at the Paralympics Games and participation in the Olympic Games. In 2011, he became the first amputee to win a medal in a non-disabled event at the World Championships in Athletics, in South Korea.
Pistorius’ sporting achievements became tainted after the murder of Ms Steenkamp, which ended with an increased total sentence of 15 years in prison after a Supreme Court appeal.
The former track star, who will be eligible for parole in 2023, maintained that he did not intentionally shoot his partner and mistook her for an intruder.
Ms Steenkamp was found dead in the bathroom of Pistorius’ home in Pretoria, with three bullet wounds.
Prior to the killing, he was one of the most popular names in athletics and had won-over audiences with his humble demeanour and determination to not let his disability hold him back.
Pistorius’ legs were amputated when he was 11 months old after he was born without the fibula, the bone between the ankle and knee, and received his first prosthetic shortly after.
Four months before the murder, during an interview on Larry King Now, he told the US host that he “grew-up not really thinking” he had “much of a disability”.
Pistorius maintained that he didn’t suffer excessive teasing or bullying due to his pragmatic nature and the way his parents raised him.
However, the star admitted that he used to make light of his situation by lying to children when they stared at his prosthetic legs.
He said: “I take a very direct approach, if I see a child staring… and the parent turns their child away, I usually go up to the kid.
“I’m like, ‘Hi, my name is Oscar and these are my prosthetic legs and I lost my legs because I didn’t eat my vegetables’ or I make up a story and say, ‘A lion bit them off’ or something.”
Pistorius felt that it broke down barriers and that people only stare because they “aren’t educated about disabilities” but equally don’t “want to be rude”.
He continued: “I show them my prosthetic legs and explain the situation to them.
“A parent just turning a child away immediately [causes] that child [to] know that’s something they don’t talk about and it’s going to bother them for many years.
“I think it’s a problem many generations have, they have been doing over and over again – so by educating the younger generation, they grow-up knowing what disabilities are about.
“The next time you see someone with a prosthetic leg you might think it’s because the person ‘didn’t eat their vegetables’ or ‘had their leg bitten off by a lion’ but at least you’ll know what prosthetic legs are.”
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Pistorius’ attitude toward disability likely stems from his late mother Sheila’s determination not to let him feel different to others.
Before his legs were amputated as a baby, she wrote a letter for him to read when he was older, according to a 2013 article in Time magazine.
She wrote: “The real loser is never the person who crosses the finishing line last. The real loser is the person who sits on the side. The person who does not even try to compete.”
Sheila died at the age of 42, allegedly from an allergic reaction to medicine, when Pistorius was 15 years old and before his first big race.
The athlete memorialised his mother by having her birthday and the date she died tattooed on his body, along with the Corinthians scripture: “I do not run like a man running aimlessly.”
The Trials of Oscar Pistorius airs tonight at 9.10PM on BBC Two.
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