Al Mead: jumping into the record books.
Al Mead, 37, a member of the U.S. Paralympics team, is currently training for the 1996 games in Atlanta, Georgia, where he will compete in the long jump, high jump and pentathlon pentathlon (pĕntăth`lən), composite athletic event. In ancient Greece it comprised leaping, foot racing, wrestling, discus throwing, and casting the javelin. . Mead, an above-knee amputee am·pu·tee
A person who has had one or more limbs removed by amputation. , also serves on the board of directors for the Atlanta Paralympic Organizing Committee and on President Clinton's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.
Out in the community, Mead is greeted enthusiastically--and with more than a little awe--by youngsters who recognize him from one of his many disability-awareness presentations in local schools. "I always give the kids demonstrations of how my prosthetic pros·thet·ic
1. Serving as or relating to a prosthesis.
2. Of or relating to prosthetics.
serving as a substitute; pertaining to prostheses or to prosthetics. leg works," he explains. "I even jump up to the basketball hoop and grab the rim. They are always amazed a·maze
v. a·mazed, a·maz·ing, a·maz·es
1. To affect with great wonder; astonish. See Synonyms at surprise.
2. Obsolete To bewilder; perplex.
Mead is a partner in an executtve search firm in Atlanta. He also serves as the music director at Liveoak Baptist Church in College Park, Georgia College Park (aka "collie park") is a city located partly in Fulton County, Georgia and partially in Clayton County, Georgia, in the United States. As of the 2000 census, the city population was 20,382 (Fulton: 18,810; Clayton: 1,572). . He lives with his wife of 10 years, Rochelle, and their daughters, Karen Ashley, 7, and Monique, 4. The following was adapted from an interview between Mead and Exceptional Parent intern intern /in·tern/ (in´tern) a medical graduate serving in a hospital preparatory to being licensed to practice medicine.
in·tern or in·terne
n. Ellen Bullock.
I grew up on Chicago's south side with my mom, Gwen, my dad, Albert Mead Jr.--I'm actually Albert III--and two younger siblings, Jenny and Steve. My family was very close. We all went to church together, and we always ate dinner together. We did everything as a family. I'm sure this closeness played a big part in easing any pain I had growing up with an artificial leg.
The events leading up to the amputation amputation (ăm'pyətā`shən), removal of all or part of a limb or other body part. Although amputation has been practiced for centuries, the development of sophisticated techniques for treatment and prevention of infection has greatly of my leg probably began when I stepped on a nail; my mom brought me to the doctor, who just sent me back home. Then, a few months later, I was shooting some hoops with my godmother's son, and I fell down on my back. For some reason, am started my foot hurting all over again.
I was nine years old. I remember the day clearly because it was the day of the Martin Luther King Jr. funeral in April 1968. When I got to my godmother's home and explained what had happened, I remember the attention was divided between me and the televised funeral.
My godmother thought I had sprained something. She rubbed my leg down, and I soaked my foot at home. But a few days later, when it continued to hurt, my uncle, a medical technician at a local hospital, did a few informal procedures to assess the location of my pain. He was the one who noticed that most of my foot was numb. Convinced something was really wrong, he brought me to the hospital.
The doctors agreed something was seriously wrong and kept me in the hospital for their examination and treatment. Eventually, they had to amputate am·pu·tate
To cut off a part of the body, especially by surgery. my foot. A few days later, they determined that the infection was worse than originally thought. So they amputated again, just below the knee. Then, still later, they amputated my leg just above the knee. So I actually had three amputations.
When my mom first told me they were going to amputate, I wasn't particularly upset, probably because I didn't really understand what I was facing. I remember my mother crying, and I told her, "Don't cry "Don't Cry" is a power ballad by hard rock band Guns N' Roses, two versions of which were released simultaneously on different albums. The version with the original lyrics is the fourth track on Use Your Illusion I , Mom. My leg's gonna grow back, isn't it?"
A time of change
It wasn't until the end of my five-week hospital stay, when they started training me to roll a wheelchair and walk on crutches, that I realized drugs were going to be different. It really hit me when I came home so obviously different from the day I'd left.
I had to stay home from school until I got my first prosthetic leg. While all the other kids were at school and my parents were at work, I spent a lot of time on the comer of our block. I would just sit there, with my crutches over my lap, watching the cars go by. I must have looked pretty sad because the cars started slowing down. Some of them stopped, and people got out and gave me money.
I decided right away that this was not the way I wanted to be seen--a poor little crippled kid feeling sorry for self. I knew I had to start turning that stereotype around.
Back in the game
I started learning to ride a bike soon thereafter. I just climbed on and started practicing. My mom says I almost gave her a heart attack the first time she saw me trying to ride my bike with one leg. She didn't know whether to yell at me to get off the bike or just let me go and hope for the best. She swallowed her fear and let me continue to ride. I fell on my face a few times, but soon I was able to ride with one leg.
Once fitted with my first prosthesis prosthesis (prŏs`thĭsĭs): see artificial limb.
Artificial substitute for a missing part of the body, usually an arm or leg. , my next challenge was getting back into our neighborhood games of "alley football." The kids were reluctant to include me, because they were afraid of being blamed if I got hurt. I eventually convinced them to let me play and it didn't take me long to get a good feel for a hop-skipping type of run. When I finally got my hands on the ball, I headed for the goal line at the end of the alley. At that moment, the bottom part of my leg fell off.
There was my foot on the ground, and I had the football, and nobody knew what to do. I said, "Hey, don't worry, guys. I'm OK. Just let me get this touchdown, then I'll go get my foot fixed."
I have no doubt that my participation in sports was the rehabilitation rehabilitation: see physical therapy. vehicle that got me back into the mainstream of society Baseball was my first love; I played on a community team, eventually becoming an all-star catcher. I even learned to steal bases. I played hockey in the winter and I started to play basketball in seventh grade. I tried out for the basketball team in high school but even though I made the cut, the coaches decided again letting me play because they were worried about the possibility of a lawsuit if I got injured. But I played intramural intramural /in·tra·mu·ral/ (-mu´r'l) within the wall of an organ.
Occurring or situated within the walls of a cavity or organ. basketball, and our team won the school tournament. That made me feel a bit better.
It wasn't so much that I loved sports, but that I loved the challenge of letting everybody know that I could hang with them and be just as good, in spite of the additional challenge I faced. My biggest struggle was with a series of prosthetic legs that just couldn't keep up with me. hi those days, prosthetics pros·thet·ics
The branch of medicine or surgery that deals with the production and application of artificial body parts.
pros were not made to accommodate sports activities or active kids. I would bail out of swings like everybody else, or I'd climb a fence and jump off, then I'd walk home and there would be ball bearings ball bearings n → roulement m à billes all over the floor. Not a week passed that I didn't have to bring my leg in for some sort of repair.
Getting into track and field
After high school, I moved to Atlanta Slang for a 404 error on the Web, which is a link to a missing page. The area code for Atlanta, Georgia is 404. See 404 error. , Georgia to attend Morehouse College Morehouse College: see Atlanta Univ. Center.
Private, historically black, men's liberal arts college in Atlanta, Ga. It was founded as the Augusta Institute, a seminary, in 1867 and renamed in 1913 in honour of Henry L. . I decided to put sports behind me and concentrate on my studies. Initially, I thought I might become a doctor, but I ended up majoring in business.
Just before finishing college, I heard there was going to be a sports competition for amputees in Statesboro, Georgia Statesboro is a city in southeast Georgia, United States, serving as the county seat of Bulloch CountyGR6. Statesboro was chartered in 1803, starting as a small farming community providing the basic essentials for surrounding farms. . I got all excited because although I hadn't stayed involved in organized sports, I was still in pretty good shape.
It was my full amputee meet ever, and my first attempt at any track and field activities. I signed up to run the 100-, 200- and 400-meter races--and I broke world records in all three events. I also tried the high jump and the long jump, and I broke national records in both. This competition was the first time I'd ever met other amputees who were active like me.
Several unexpected highlights of my track and field career occurred at the 1988 Paralympic Games Par·a·lym·pic Games
An international competition for athletes with disabilities.
[para-1 + (O)lympic. in Seoul, Korea. I was competing in the 100 meters, an event in which I was undefeated. The regular Olympics and the Paralympics were being held at the same venue, and my mom and dad were there at this huge stadium waiting to see me compete. So picture this: the gun goes off and I dash out of the starting blocks. I'm 15 meters into the race--in the lead--and my leg breaks in half! You're talking about a big defeat, because this was a race in which I was virtually assured of a gold medal gold medal
traditional first prize. [Western Cult: Misc.]
See : Prize
I didn't get a medal in the high jump either. So, it all came down to my last event, the long jump, in which I had never medaled internationally. A Canadian, Arnie Bolt, the world record holder in the high jump, was also favored in the long jump. Sure enough, on his third jump, he broke the current world record. But in my third jump, I broke the record he had just set. I came away with the gold medal. hi the years since, the long jump has become my main event.
Hop, skip and a jump
After Seoul, prosthetics technology started to catch up with the activities we were doing. I got a new running leg--the weirdest--looking thing I'd ever seen. There was no wood in it; it was all alloy metals and plastics. This was the first leg that could allow me to run leg-over-leg. But I told the prostheticist, "Hey, I broke the long jump world record with my hop-skip run. I'm comfortable with it, and I'm going to stick with what works."
At the 1992 games in Barcelona, Spain, the stadium was packed--the Europeans really love track and field. In the midst Adv. 1. in the midst - the middle or central part or point; "in the midst of the forest"; "could he walk out in the midst of his piece?"
midmost of my concentration before the long jump, everyone in the stadium started clapping rhythmically. When I started to run, they started clapping faster and faster. It was electrifying e·lec·tri·fy
tr.v. e·lec·tri·fied, e·lec·tri·fy·ing, e·lec·tri·fies
1. To produce electric charge on or in (a conductor).
a. , and in my first jump, I broke the world record.
But it was probably the shortest-lived world record ever, because in his first jump, the West German athlete that followed me jumped further. And he used the leg-over-leg running style. I came away with the silver medal, finally convinced that I needed to run leg-over-leg. Today, with an even newer leg, I'm running leg-over-leg and looking to recapture my world record at the 1996 Paralympics, right here in Atlanta.
I think the world will be amazed and impressed with how rapidly Paralympians are closing the gap between themselves and Olympic athletes without disabilities, For example, a double amputee [U.S. athlete Tony Volpentest, a double arm, double leg amputee] now runs 100 meters in 11.6 seconds--only 1.7 seconds off Carl Lewis' world record.
Parents as partners
A parent who wants his or her kid with a disability to get involved in sports must be prepared to be that kid's partner. Mostly, kids need support from their parents. They need their parents to cheer them on, to encourage them to keep pushing and to allow them to share their concerns.
My parents are a good example, particularly because I was a real financial liability to the family. I kept tearing up my leg, and they had to keep paying for repairs. They could have shown some reluctance to do that; but they didn't. They just kept encouraging me to be as active as I wanted to be. They were my partners in the very best sense of the word.
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On more than one occasion, Mead has been able to combine his love of music and sports. Here, he sings the National Anthem at the Georgia State Games in 1993. He also sang at the closing ceremonies of the 1988 Paralympics in Barcelona, Spain, where he captured a silver medal in the long jump with a jump of 4.62 meters (15 feet, 2 inches).
RELATED ARTICLE: About the Paralympics...
The Paralympic Games began as the International Wheelchair Games, first held in 1948 in London. In 1960, the competition was renamed the Paralympics. Over the years, the Years, The
the seven decades of Eleanor Pargiter’s life. [Br. Lit.: Benét, 1109]
See : Time games came to include athletes with a variety of disabilities including visual impairments, paraplegia paraplegia (pâr'əplē`jēə), paralysis of the lower part of the body, commonly affecting both legs and often internal organs below the waist. When both legs and arms are affected, the condition is called quadriplegia. and quadriplegia quadriplegia: see paraplegia. , cerebral palsy cerebral palsy (sərē`brəl pôl`zē), disability caused by brain damage before or during birth or in the first years, resulting in a loss of voluntary muscular control and coordination. , amputation and dwarfism dwarfism, condition in which an animal or plant is less than normal in size and lacks the capacity for normal growth. Dwarfism is deliberately produced and perpetuated in certain species (e.g., in breeding miniature dogs and cultivating dwarf plants). .
In the next Paralympics, athletes will compete in 17 different sports including track and field, swimming and volleyball. The 10-day games will be held in Atlanta in 1996, following the summer Olympics. The Atlanta Paralympic organizing committee has planned a number of youth and education programs to coincide with the event. These programs include a "Paralympic Day" in local schools, a Paralympic youth sports camp and a mentor program. For more information about the Paralympics or any of these programs, contact the 1996 Atlanta Paralympic Games, One Atlantic Center One Atlantic Center, also known as the IBM Tower, is a skyscraper located in Midtown Atlanta. It is the third-tallest in Atlanta, reaching a height of 820 feet (250 m) with 50 stories of office space. , 1201 W. Peachtree St., Ste. 2500, Atlanta, GA 30309-3448; (404) 588-1996; (404) 724-2811, fax.