Former Raider Willie Gault helps Paralympic athlete run toward Olympics and away from drugs

Friday, March 02, 2018 06:34PM
Former Raider and Super Bowl champion Willie Gault helps a disabled athlete with his training and struggles in life.


WESTWOOD, Calif. - He was born without feet, but Blake Leeper was born to run.

"I was born with a congenital birth defect - fibular hemimelia, which left me missing both of my legs below the knee," Leeper said.

But his life changed when he watched the 2008 Paralympics on television.

"He tells his dad, there's this group that will buy me these $15,000 dollar a piece legs, so he can run like Oscar Pistorious. His dad goes, 'it's a con. Nobody is going to give you legs,'" said Bob Babbitt, cofounder of Challenged Athletes Foundation.

But the Challenged Athletes Foundation gave Leeper more than just legs - they gave him purpose.

"Right there and then I knew I needed to start running. They had something I didn't have - that was running legs," Leeper said.

His coach is one of sports most decorated athletes - 57-year-old Willie Gault. He coaches and works out with the 28-year-old.

The former Raider, Super Bowl champion with the Bears and Olympic gold medalist set 13 world records over 35 years of competition.

"If you're going to be an athlete, be an athlete. You can do all the stuff later when you're not an athlete because you can't be an athlete forever. I try to live the way I coach," Gault said.

Leeper won two medals at the 2012 Paralympics in London. But he couldn't run from the mental hurdle of being disabled. He was disqualified from the Rio games after testing positive for cocaine.

"That was my rock bottom. I had to wake up every day knowing that I couldn't run. I lost my sponsorships. I lost financial support. I lost my legs. It got so bad, I lost my sponsorship legs when I got suspended," Leeper said.

It was Gault that helped him climb back. He used the track at UCLA to keep him on the straight and narrow.

"I think I saw something in him and also the people that work with him, and the fact that he wanted to get better. We all make mistakes. It's not about the mistake. It's how you come back from it," Gault said.

Leeper credits the former Raider for getting him back into world-record form.

"When I was going through all of this, I was trying to figure out my purpose. When Willie Gault stepped up and said, 'Blake, if you give me 120 percent, I'll give you 120 percent. I'll get you to where you want to be,'" he said.

The two train together in Westwood, four to five times a week.

"Hope, potential, a journey - other athletes see all of that through the journey that Blake Leeper had," Babbitt said.

Leeper - with the help of a Super Bowl champion - uses the stairs at UCLA, as part of his climb back to the Olympics.
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