When Oscar Pistorius sped around the track in London earlier this summer, he made history as the first double amputee to compete in the Olympics.
The South African broke down barriers and opened doors — gateways Markeith Price soon wants to storm through.
Price, who was born with optic atrophy, or damage to the optic nerve, and is legally blind, joins Pistorius on the track this week at the 2012 Paralympics, also in London. But already, the 22-year-old, who will graduate from Tennessee State in December, has his sights set on a bigger stage.
“One of my goals is to run in the Olympic Games also with able-bodied people,” Price said. “There are a lot of us that have goals like that, and there are a lot of us that are on their way to making those goals happen. So 2016, it might not just be Oscar Pistorius.”
Price becomes TSU’s second Paralympian when he begins competition Friday at London, where he will compete in the long jump, the 200- and 400-meter dashes and the 4x100-meter relay. Amputee Ryan Fann helped the U.S. win the 4x400-meter relay and also took bronze in the 400-meter dash at the 2004 Paralympics in Athens.
A two-time gold medalist at the 2005 International Blind Sports Association World Youth Championships in 2005, Price believed he was headed to the Beijing Olympics four years ago. But an injury temporarily put that Olympic dream on hold.
He channeled that frustration into motivation, winning gold medals in the triple jump and 400-meter dash at the ISBA Pan American Games in 2009. After taking fourth in the 200-meter dash at last year’s International Paralympic Committee World Championships, he split time between classes at TSU and staying at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif.
The hard work paid off when, last month at the U.S. Paralympic Trials, he won the long jump and 400-meter dash, which he finished in 51.64 seconds — the fourth-fastest IBSA time in the world.
“This is what I’ve been training for four years. I can’t even describe the words, how amazing it feels,” said Price, who holds national indoor records in four events. “I’m kind of speechless.”
Price, who has 20/600 vision in his left eye and wears sunglasses to shield the light, never let his poor eyesight hold him back. When he was 4, one year after doctors discovered the damage in his eyes, Price played T-ball. Then came soccer. When he was 11, he stepped onto a track, and the Baltimore native found his passion.
He arrived at TSU three years ago not only to pursue a degree in fashion merchandise, but to compete with — and beat — able-bodied runners.
“My parents never shied me away from what I wanted to do,” Price said. “There are always some limitations, but you go around those limitations. You figure out what you can work with. Even if it is something somebody says you can’t, you still always do it. I always wanted to run track.”