Patrick “Blake” Leeper was born on August 31st, 1989 in Kingsport, Tennessee. Born with both legs missing below the knee, Blake still spent his young life focused on succeeding in sports. At nine months old he began wearing prosthetics and spent his young life thriving in sports. Blake’s top sport was basketball.
During high school, Blake almost quit athletic endeavors -- as an aspiring pre-med student, he felt that he needed to apply himself fully ahead of the college admissions process. After deciding to go to pre-med camp in the summer before his senior year of high school rather than play summer basketball, Blake thought his decision had been sealed. However, a high school teammate (and current NFL standout) Cody Sensabaugh convinced Blake to continue playing basketball during his senior year.
Exposure to Racing:
Blake’s first exposure to Paralympic track and field came through the 2008 games, when he watched Oscar Pistorius’ record-setting performances earn a spot on SportsCenter’s Top 10. A switch was flipped: Blake knew he wanted to race.
Blake then turned his relentless spirit towards finding a guiding light in the world of track and field. He reached out to members of the United States’ 2008 Paralympics team via MySpace, eventually receiving a response from an athlete named Ryan Fann. The guidance provided by Fann would lead Blake to get his first running legs and begin his journey.
Without any exposure to the world of track, Blake Leeper set out for his first event. Not even knowing how to get into the blocks, Blake came in first place in the event and earned attention from U.S. Paralympics coaches. They made sure to stay in touch with Blake, who at the time was a student at University of Tennessee.
Blake continued to balance school and track, eventually heading down to Brazil to participate in a major race. There, he placed first and solidified his status as one of track’s least expected young stars.
Making the Move:
Initially, Blake attempted to continue balancing school with his athletic endeavors. Majoring in Pre-Medicine and Physics, this was no easy task. However, he continued to post eye-popping numbers at events, and was invited to train with U.S. Olympians in the summer of 2010. After getting into the best shape of his life in San Diego, Blake took home first place at trials in Miami.
Following his dominant performance, Blake attempted to break tough news to his parents: that he wanted to drop out of school and pursue track full time. His mother began to cry -- she, a nurse, had always dreamed of working with her son, whose goal had been to become a doctor. Blake was convinced to continue attending school at Tennessee.
In the fall of 2010, Blake finally hit a point where it became clear that he could not pursue track at the necessary level while still in school. Balancing highly demanding programs with maintaining a social life and a full training regimen became too much. His performances suffered and he realized that he had to make a decision.
“Something had to give,” Blake said reflecting on the trying period in his life. So, he packed his bags and headed to California to begin his life as an Olympian.
An Olympian is Born:
Blake arrived in San Diego in December of 2010 and spent the entirety of 2011 training. For the first time in his life, he was living the lifestyle of an athlete. However, just one month into his time in San Diego, a substantial challenge emerged.
Blake headed to New Zealand for a series of events in which he would race Oscar Pistorius. Nervous and exhausted from the travel, Blake came in fifth in his events.
While he knew he wasn’t where he needed to be, Blake learned something important from the saga: “I lost, but I was so close. I can be the best in the world.”
Blake spent the next year of his life devoted fully to his training. Working at a Champs Sporting Goods store to pay the bills, he embraced the grind in Southern California in an effort to reach his peak condition ahead of the 2012 games.
In the first race of 2012, Blake posted a sub-22 in the 200m -- Pistorius was the only other person in the world who had done so. By June of 2012, Blake was tying the reigning champ’s times. Then, by the time the games rolled around, Blake was posted a 21.7 in the 200m.
He was ready.
Blake Leeper arrived to his first Paralympic games in the best shape of his life. He was primed, prepared, and by many accounts ready to challenge Oscar Pistorius.
However, there is no substitute for experience. Having already been in London for a month prior to the Paralympic Games, Pistorius took home the gold in most events.
Blake earned a bronze medal in the 200m and a silver medal in the 400m. While he did fall short of his goals of beating Pistorius, he had definitively showed that track and field world that his time was coming.
Connecting with an Icon:
Throughout his entire life, Blake looked up to Bo Jackson. In the 1980s, Jackson played in the MLB with a prosthetic hip, making him the only professional athlete to do so.
As a child, Blake had a run-in with Bo Jackson after writing a letter to the athlete explaining his situation and why he admired the sports legend. At an event in Tennessee, Jackson made it a point to invite the Leeper family backstage and sign any items Blake wanted. Two decades later, the athletes would meet once again.
Following a breakout showing at the 2012 Paralympic Games, Blake was invited onto the Arsenio Hall Show. During his appearance, Hall signaled to have someone bring out Blake’s running blades so he could show the audience how they worked. Expecting to see a producer quickly dart out with the gear, Blake was shocked to see his idol, Bo Jackson, walk onto the stage. The show had planned a surprise, and Blake was able to reconnect with his idol.
After the show, Bo Jackson offered incredible words of encouragement and support to Blake. “Call me Uncle Bo,” the legend said. Jackson did help Blake land a deal with Nike, which was a major help in his efforts to prepare to challenge a new set of world records.
For the first time in Leeper’s life, he was making real money. However, this influx of cash ratcheted up his level of his partying. During a down year with few events, Leeper’s partying escalated. One week away from the 2015 nationals, he told his roommates that he would throw a true party with them if he posted a record-setting 48 in the 400.
Leeper did just that, and subsequently partied with his roommates ahead of nationals.
After improving even more with a 47.9 at trials, Leeper was asked to take a random drug test. While the test did not show cocaine itself, it did show metabolic byproducts of the substance, which was enough to warrant a suspension.
Leeper negotiated his suspension down to a one-year ban with the USADA, but the IPC (International Paralympic Committee) insisted on a two-year ban. After being led to believe that the one-year ban would be the prevailing punishment, his ability to compete in the 2016 Paralympic Games was stripped away from him at the last moment.
Never Giving Up:
True to his character, Blake did not walk away from the sport he loves after his ban from the 2016 games. Following what he admitted was a “dark” period for him during the games, he doubled down in his commitment to his sport. Now fully sober and actively attending AA meetings, Blake is making a return to the sport he loves.
“My life is simple: I train, I eat and I sleep.”
Blake is now not only setting an example with his determination in the face of a situation he was born into, but also in his path back from addiction. Most individuals would have been knocked down by these combined circumstances, but the events simply strengthened Blake’s resolve.
Thanks to the help of his trainers and girlfriend, Blake is back on track. Living sober and focusing on training, Blake is preparing to make his comeback to the world of track and field.