Oscar Pistorius: The more we hear of Reeva Steenkamp's tragic death, the more a hero falls

There are dangers in putting sports stars on a pedestal

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The Independent Online

Pain is one of my constant companions, and so sleep is often difficult even with the strong drugs I take to keep the pain at bay.

When I wake up with more than an hour of physiotherapist prescribed exercises ahead of me it’s often very tempting to just stay in bed. To get me over this hump I search for inspiration. Sometimes that has been provided by Oscar Pistorius.

The blade runner has been something of a hero of mine since my accident because he is a living example of someone who has done what I have been trying to do, namely beat the odds.

I am aware of the dangers of putting sports stars on a pedestal. I know that they are human beings, subject to human foibles, like the rest of us. That, like the rest of us, they are imperfect, flawed. In fact some of those flaws are often bigger when it comes to sports stars. It’s one thing to have the talent, quite another to have the dedication to turn it into championships and medals. It calls for a certain ruthlessness, a certain selfishness, an obsessive drive.

Those sort of traits can lead people down dark paths, as they have with so many of the stars who have fallen to earth in recent years. Just look at Lance Armstrong.

I know all this.

Now just look at Oscar.

Of course he’s innocent until proven guilty. But even if a jury agrees with him that Reeva Steenkamp’s death was a terrible accident, he’s still a killer. He shot the woman he loved with his own gun. That’s not a stain that can ever be removed if it was indeed an accident. If. There have also been allegations - and they are just allegations at the moment - of domestic violence which adds a further deeply disturbing element to this tale that makes me shudder even more.

I don’t believe I’ve ever felt the wrench I felt when I heard the news breaking yesterday about any other sporting figure. It felt personal. I know it shouldn’t, but it did.

Perhaps it’s because of all those mornings when I’ve felt like staying in bed and I’ve thought - if that guy can compete with able bodied athletes without the bottom part of his legs, and beat some of the world’s best to reach an Olympic semi-final, then you get your lazy backside up and moving. You’ve got your legs, even if the bottom of just one of them is paralysed and they don’t work all that well together. Get up, do what you need to do to change that.

I know I’m not alone in being inspired by the blade runner. One of the sweetest moments of the Paralympics was watching the parents of a little boy with a blade of his own run up to the side of the track with him in their arms so he could talk to his hero. And, from what I could see, Oscar talked to him, signed his name. Not all athletes would have. That obsessive drive doesn’t always make for nice people, after all.

I wonder how that little boy feels now, how his parents feel, how all the other people who this man has inspired feel. Gutted, perhaps best sums it up. I know we probably shouldn’t feel that way, but we can’t help it. People need heroes and when they come crashing to earth it is a terrible thing.

That said, however bad we might feel pales in comparison to what the parents, family and friends of Reeva Steenkamp are feeling now. Her death, and not Oscar’s fall, is the real tragedy here. And that must not be forgotten in the circus that will follow this story in the days and weeks ahead.