Are You Faster Than Blake Leeper? The World Record Holder on Why ‘Discovering New Abilities Is a Gift of Life’

On the new People Are Awesome show, Are You Faster Than Blake Leeper?, the eight-time Paralympic international medalist is giving us all a lesson in breaking out of your comfort zone, no matter what.

The one thing Blake Leeper might be known for even more than his speed? His smile. Known as the fastest man in the world without legs (he was born with both legs missing below the knee), Leeper doesn’t see obstacles—he sees opportunity. Leeper has been training to become the first double-amputee to compete in the Olympics for the American team, is an eight-time Paralympic Track and Field international medalist, world record holder and three-time American record holder.

For Leeper’s latest undertaking—his show, Are You Faster Than Blake Leeper?—he’s slowing down to learn new skills, like pro wrestling and cake decorating, from the best in these fields. Once he’s got the basics, he then takes them on in a foot race to see if they’re faster than Blake Leeper. That willingness to try, and sometimes fail, is entertaining…but most of all, humbling—an experience that never loses its value in life.

New episodes of Are You Faster Than Blake Leeper? premiere every Thursday at 8pm ET on the People Are Awesome streaming channel. You can also watch the latest episodes any time on People Are Awesome’s app, YouTube channel, and Facebook page. For more information on where to watch, visit peopleareawesome.tv.

Blake Leeper spoke with The Healthy @Reader’s Digest about how he stays positive when the going gets tough, and the discipline it takes to be a world-class athlete.

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Blake Leeper on a basketball court in a wheelchair, smiling with his hands in the airTMB studio

Blake Leeper on the challenge of trying something new

The Healthy: Trying new things can be really intimidating for some people, especially if they’re not good at it right away. Have any of these challenges for the show really presented you with that experience? What did you learn?

Blake Leeper: Every episode brought new challenges. I was patient and tried to keep my focus to gain as much information as I possibly could from my coach and mentor [who was assigned for the challenge]. For example, practicing and training on the American Ninja Warrior course, or doing a front-flip dive into the pool. Both were challenging for me, but once I figured the sport out it empowered me to want to do even more.

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The Healthy: What would you say to encourage somebody to break out of their comfort zone and try something new? Have you witnessed any inspirational moments of growth in others during this experience?

Blake Leeper: Trying something new can be scary at times. I can remember when I walked into the kitchen with a professional cake decorator, it was very intimidating, but the end result was me being able to take home a beautiful cake to my daughter. I encourage people to try new things, because discovering new abilities is a gift of life.

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Blake Leeper on staying positive: ‘Why not me?’

The Healthy: Your positivity is unstoppable! Staying positive is a challenge for so many people these days. How do you stay focused on the good?

Blake Leeper: Being positive can be a challenging at times. I definitely still have some bad days being a double-leg amputee, but because of my disability I understand and know that I have to work and fight for my happiness. So on a daily basis I’m reading and listening to things that will motivate me. I make sure I’m surrounding myself with the right people to encourage and lift me up to help me have a positive perspective on my life.

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The Healthy: You’ve said before that doctors told your parents you would never play sports, but now you’re a professional athlete. Can you share a story of overcoming something that felt like a huge obstacle?

Blake Leeper: There was a time when I was playing little league baseball. I was running around the bases trying to hit my first home run, when my leg fell off from second to third base. I was tagged out, the inning was over, and the failure and embarrassment that I felt was so heavy I remember just questioning, WHY ME? Why did this happen to me, why am I born missing both of my legs, and why am I failing at this sport that I love so much?

As more trials and tribulations that I face in my life [come up], I realize in that moment I was asking the wrong question. I was looking for fault, but I should have taken responsibility over my life, because it was no one’s fault that I failed in that moment.

Moving forward instead of asking myself, “Why me?” I flipped it. Now it’s “WHY NOT ME?” I was meant for this! I challenge you to say, “Why not me? I’m strong enough to do this!” or “Why not me? I’m smart enough for this!”

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Blake Leeper’s track and field career

portrait of Blake Leeper about to run in a studio with a black backgroundTMB studio

The Healthy: Excellence in any sport takes discipline, and also means time away from our relationships. Is there someone in your life who’s always there for you?

Blake Leeper: Yes, it is tough training day-in and day-out to be the best in the world. Having the right people surrounding me is just as—if not more important to me—than practice. I have my fiancé Sadie and my daughter Thea who are always there to love me and support me. They travel with me as much as possible because seeing them in the stands for my races is a different type of motivation. Nothing is better than hearing my daughter scream, “Daddy!” as I walk through the door. I’m very blessed with an amazing support group of family and friends that have been on this crazy journey with me.

The Healthy: What’s the self-care practice you refuse to skip?

Blake Leeper: My self-care practice that I refuse to skip is my morning prayer and meditation EVERY DAY. Just simply grateful for this life that I live and I make sure that I never forget that. Then I jump straight into my music and just jam out all the way to practice, because music mentally just prepares me for the track.

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