Everywhere David Blair goes, he sees people staring at his club foot, which he calls his “skinny, atrophied leg.”
“It’s humorous for me because they don’t know I can see their eyes, because they are busy looking at my leg,” he says. “But, it doesn’t matter! You are still a human being, and human life, with the proper attitude, is powerful and wonderful.”
That attitude is why Blair had no trouble climbing mountains or finishing 20-mile hikes with Boy Scout Troop 318 of the Trapper Trails Council. It’s why nothing stopped his journey to becoming an Eagle Scout. And it’s why he will compete in the 2016 Paralympic Games this week in Rio de Janeiro.
Blair is the world record-holder in the men’s discus throw in his F44 disability sport classification. He competes in the Paralympic F44 Discus Final at 4:30 p.m. Eastern on Friday, Sept. 16. Watch live coverage or replays online at this link.
As the world record-holder, Blair is a favorite to medal in Rio. But his story — of overcoming a physical challenge to achieve his goals — begins much earlier.
Just a normal Scout
Despite his club foot, Blair participated in all of Troop 318’s activities. Sure, his troopmates would help him when needed, but mostly they just treated him like a normal guy.
“I still remember the pain my foot had the morning after a long, 20-mile hike at Camp Loll,” he says. “I was not much use for walking the next day but still went out on all the activities, and if they needed to wait for me, they did. No complaining from them.”
That type of support is common in Scouting, which has always welcomed Scouts with physical or mental differences.
And so Blair joined his fellow Scouts on life-changing backpacking trips, including a favorite hike in Utah’s Uinta Mountains.
Blair remembers a leader reaching out of the car window as they drove to the trailhead. He pointed up — straight up — at the mountain they were about to hike: Hayden Peak, elevation 12,480 feet.
“It looked impossible to climb,” Blair says. “We were all surprised that was the mountain we were going to hike.”
As they went straight up the side, it turned out the mountain wasn’t as steep as their young imaginations had feared. They dropped into a bowl-like valley surrounded by mountains and stayed for five or six days having fun and catching fish.
“It felt like we were inside an enormous football stadium,” Blair says. These experiences taught him that “no matter what you do in your life, there is always an adventure out there that you have never heard of, that is worth pursuing, that you will love. So, go find it!”
Blair had several surgeries to repair his foot and leg, and all were performed for free at the Shriners Hospitals for Children.
So when it came time to select a beneficiary for his Eagle Scout service project, Blair knew just the place.
“We got together a bunch of my friends from my troop and neighborhood and made a bunch of quilts for them,” he says. “Then we took the quilts to the hospital for the kids there.”
Blair’s a little blunt when talking to others who have physical challenges. His message when they tell him they have a disability: “So what?”
“I mean that very nicely,” he says. “There is nobody in this world that doesn’t have something wrong with them that they wish they didn’t have and would love to not be burdened with. If someone says they don’t, they are likely hiding something.”
And while a wheelchair user, for example, may have a burden that is more visible, that still doesn’t matter, he says.
“The sooner you learn that people really don’t notice or think about your disability for longer than just a couple seconds, the sooner you can free up your mind to think of more pleasant and productive things,” he says. “I have found in my personal experience that a ‘disability’ is almost always a matter of attitude.”
Besides, he says, people — and especially Scouts — are innately good.
“Humans as a whole are typically very accepting and loving people,” Blair says. “If this is not your experience, consider changing friends.”
Boy Scout and discus champion
Blair had his life figured out early.
By eighth grade, he had identified two goals: graduate college and become an Eagle Scout.
To afford college, though, he’d need a scholarship. That’s when he decided to join the track and field team at his school in Kaysville, Utah. He eventually set the school record and won the 1993 Utah state title in discus. He later attended Weber State University, setting many more records and graduating in 1999.
As for the Eagle Scout Award, earned in 1992, he says that was a result of making time for Scouting.
“It was every Wednesday, and we always went — we went to the Scout camps, earned the merit badges that we needed to, and put in my time on my own to make sure that I got the requirements done,” he says.
For added motivation, Blair’s parents told him and his brothers they couldn’t get a driver’s license until they earned Eagle.
“I am glad that they did that,” he says. “As a young man, it is difficult to fully process the long-term benefits of things we might achieve in our youth.”
Blair, who turns 41 later this month, is still involved with Scouting.
For the past 15-plus years, he has served in several roles, including Scoutmaster, assistant Scoutmaster, Venturing Advisor and committee chairman. He’s a member of Troop 1069 of the Utah National Parks Council.
Why stick around?
“I think now more than ever, this generation of young men needs something like Scouting to get them out from in front of their screens, learning hands-on about new things, and seeing new places that they have never been and would not have been otherwise,” he says.
The Eagle in Rio
In 2015, 16 years after Blair last competed in track and field, the Eagle Scout learned he was eligible for the Paralympics.
“I had always competed against able-bodied athletes, never even thinking that the Paralympics had disability classifications that I would qualify for,” he says. “I was throwing really well in my younger years, and without knowing it at the time, the marks of my youth were world-record distances by more than 30 feet in Paralympic competitions.”
And so now he’s a Paralympian representing Team USA. For a guy who has worn an American flag on his Scout uniform all his life, wearing the Team USA colors means a great deal.
“I won’t ever forget the first shipment of Team USA uniforms that came to my house,” he says. “I have a lot of family members that were war veterans and did service in the military for our country, so I was raised very patriotic, and I still am.
“When I put on the Team USA uniforms, although I am in no way doing the same sacrifice my relatives and other veterans have done, I am honored that I get to represent America — even if it is through throwing a discus from a tiny cement circle onto a grass field. I am still representing my country, and I love that aspect of it.”