CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) – “They said 15…17 years ago…I wouldn’t be able to walk. And now here I am, competing to run for Team USA.”
Wheeling Central High School’s track star Cooper Blair is in Minnesota, trying out for Team USA.
Working to compete in Tokyo in this year’s Paralympics.
He is the youngest person trying to land a spot on the roster.
“These guys don’t scare me,” said Blair. “I know they’re older than me. But I can’t let them intimidate me. I can run just like these guys can.”
Cooper was born with a birth defect called Amniotic Band Syndrome, which means fluid from the womb cut off his circulation.
He was born missing toes and his feet twisted.
“I had like 20-something casts and surgeries just trying to get me back to ‘normal’ and they did everything they could,” said Blair. “But every time they would take the cast off, or the surgery would end, my feet would go right back to the way they were. Nothing would work.”
So, when he was just two years old, his parents made the difficult decision to amputate.
And Blair says he’s blessed to have it happen that way.
“That’s what I grew up with you know? I wasn’t used to one thing and had to get used to something else,” he said.
But, Blair still feels like there’s something to prove.
“I’ve had a ton of support,” he said. “But I’ve also had people say ‘he shouldn’t be doing that’ or ‘it’s an advantage’ and stuff like that. So I think it’s just coming out here and proving to everyone that I can do this. I can play sports. I can be ‘normal’ like everyone else.”
And he proved that last week, after qualifying for the state championship 100 meter dash.
“I was excited. I was stoked to be out there running in my first state championship,” Blair said.
And he’s getting ready to prove it again… but on a much bigger stage.
Representing his country in Tokyo at the Paralympics, at 17-years-old.
“There was one guy who was about 18 who made it for the 400,” said Blair. “He was probably one of the youngest, and I think he was 18. So I’m a year younger than him.”
And while he might be young, he’s ready for it.
“Walkin’ out in that Team USA jersey, it’s a lot bigger than a middle school or high school thing… it’s a USA jersey,” said Blair. “And it’s crazy. Especially being one of the youngest to do it, just trying to not let that intimidate me and just be like ‘wow. They said 15, 17 years ago, I wouldn’t be able to walk…and now here I am competing to run for Team USA.”