When teenager Paul Peterson III visited his prosthetist’s Charlotte office for follow-up appointments after his leg amputation, it didn’t take long for an interesting trend to develop.
“He was breaking a lot of the blade feet that I was supplying him,” Clay Claiborne says. “He was wearing a prosthetic foot for someone who weighs 180 pounds, and he was 140. It was because of how much torque he was putting on the heels and the toes.”
Claiborne knew his patient was active. He could tell by how Paul moved, and from conversations they had. He saw an opportunity that he thought could help add hope and direction in the youth’s life.
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Paul had lost his right leg following an accident on Thanksgiving Day in 2007. He was on the back of a motorcycle when it was hit by another car. After surgical attempts to save the leg, the decision was made to amputate below the knee.
“When I first lost my leg, there were no thoughts of running again or playing basketball or being able to have a life like everybody else,” Paul says. “I was 15 years old. I thought my life was all over.”
Five years later, Paul has a promising start on what he hopes becomes a successful running career. Although he’s been working out and training regularly for only four months, he’s already had 100-meter pre-qualifying times of less than 12 seconds - which would rank him among the top 20 paralympic runners in the world - and gotten the attention of the U.S. National Paralympic Committee.
After posting solid times in his first two track meets in March, he talks about goals such as qualifying for the national team and running in the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. And he’s grateful that Claiborne wouldn’t let him run away from running.
“He took me to a running clinic last September (in Durham), things went well, and I’ve been at it ever since,” Paul says.
Recalls Claiborne: “I just said, ‘I’m going to come pick you up, and you’re going to go.’ I’d been talking with him for over a year and a half about running. I saw something in Paul that I knew he could run fast.
“We went out there, Paul put his leg on, and he was the best guy out there although he had hardly ever run on his prosthetic leg.”
Since then, Paul has turned in a qualifying time of 12.2 seconds at UNC Charlotte on March 15 and again on March 23 at the Walt Disney World Invitational in Orlando, Fla. – where Claiborne made the nine-hour drive with him. The 20-year-old west Charlottean, who is taking classes online to get his GED and lives with his mom, is enjoying the process of setting goals and overcoming more challenges.
He’ll not soon forget his first-ever, 100-meter competition at UNCC: “I had butterflies, as any athlete would in his first track meet. I didn’t do as good as I thought I was going to do.
“I entered with a prequalifying time of 11.7, so I was hoping for better than 12.2. I had a couple stumbles but still managed to finish.”
The Orlando competition produced the same time, but that may be misleading, Claiborne says. “He had a 3.8-mph head wind, and that’s known as a slow track.”
Paul trains a couple hours a day, six days a week, at Johnson C. Smith University under coach Anthony James and at Revolution Recreation Center in Charlotte.
“I’m taking training one day at a time, trying to practice and learn as much as I can from my coach,” he says, adding that he’d like to be at 11.1 or 11.2 by 2016. “I’m trying to take a positive attitude and not let my disability affect me.”
His running schedule is picking up speed: a possible appearance at an April 13 event at Coastal Carolina University; the Desert Challenge Games in May in Mesa, Ariz. His faithful supporter says he’ll continue to be with him along the way.
“It’s hard to say all the things he’s done for me,” Paul says. “Anything he can do for me, whether it’s rides or money, he’s always there to help. He’s been a major factor in my life.
“I wake up in the morning and put my leg on – and from there, I’m not going to let anything stop me.”