David Blair remembers a time before text messaging and TikTok — when communicating with someone miles away took a little bit of Scouting ingenuity.
On a Scout adventure in the early 1990s, Blair learned to use sunlight and a signaling mirror to “talk” to a fellow Scout standing atop a mountain miles away.
Blair, a Class of 1992 Eagle Scout, remembers climbing in the Wasatch Mountains with Troop 318 of the Trapper Trails Council (now part of the Crossroads of the West Council). At the predetermined time, Blair and his fellow Scouts started flashing their mirrors toward a nearby peak. Like magic, they started getting a response from another troop doing the same thing.
“Our Scout leader, we have no idea how he knew, but he’s like, ‘We’re assigned to go to this mountain.’ And so we went, and sure enough, all of a sudden, we just started seeing signaling mirrors. I still have visions in my mind of it,” Blair says. “It’s something that’s hard to explain to a kid now — this experience that comes at the hands of Scouting.
“You can see that happen on a screen on TikTok, but it’s not the same as when you’re up there and you are actually participating in it. Man, we need that so much right now.”
Living in the moment and enjoying authentic experiences has been an important part of Blair’s life — from his time as a Scout to becoming a father to earning a gold medal in discus at the 2016 Paralympic Games.
As he prepares to defend his title at the Tokyo Paralympics this summer, Bryan on Scouting caught up with Blair to see how life has changed since the Rio Games and what’s next.
Ready to soar
After earning the highest rank in Scouting and setting the Utah high school record in discus, Blair attended Weber State University in Ogden, Utah. There, he set many more records and graduated in 1999.
Blair stayed active as a volunteer, serving as Scoutmaster, assistant Scoutmaster, Venturing Advisor and committee chairman with the Utah National Parks Council (also now part of the Crossroads of the West Council).
In 2016, Blair told Bryan on Scouting that he remains involved with Scouting as an adult because this generation of young people “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.”
At the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, Blair threw the 4.4-pound discus 64.11 meters — breaking his own world record. That throw earned Blair, who was born with a club foot, a gold medal in his F44 disability classification.
In the years since Rio, Blair has continued advocating for Scouting. In May 2020, he even made a guest appearance during the BSA’s National Camp-In, a free, family friendly event streamed online.
During that event, Blair led viewers in a quick warmup before a virtual 5K hike.
Preparing for Tokyo
Blair says a pair of factors have forced him to change the training plan that resulted in Rio gold: the pandemic and his age (he’s now 45 — five years older than when he competed in Rio). Leading up to Toyko, Blair has been alternating between throwing days and lifting days.
When you picture a lifting day, you might think of that muscly man or woman bench pressing, squatting or curling at your local gym. But Blair does things a little differently.
During COVID lockdown, Blair built a home gym where he can work on what he calls “Olympic-style lifts” that are more focused on speed and flexibility than sheer power.
In each session, he starts with 225 pounds on the bar, lifts it and swings the bar from his knees to up above his shoulders. After three to six times at 225 pounds, Blair adds 20 pounds and repeats. Then he adds 20 more. Then 20 more. And so on until he needs a rest. Then he does it all over again.
“By the time I’m done, I’m sweating and I’m slinging quite a bit of weight,” he says. “When I trained at the public gym, I didn’t like it as much. Everyone looked at me because they’ve never seen anyone lift like that.”
Blair does this atypical, rigorous routine alongside two other full-time jobs. He’s the proud father of four girls, and he’s a database programmer.
“There’s been multiple times this year where I was finishing my lifts around 2 in the morning,” he says. “Just because the day got busy and something happened.”
Paralympic officials aren’t allowing spectators in Tokyo, so Blair’s wife and daughters will be watching from home — waking up early on Dad’s competition day to cheer him on.
The family fridge
Every summer, the Blair family puts on its refrigerator a list of summer activities they’d like to try. Everyone gets to contribute. Mom, Dad and all four girls write down whatever experiences they’d like to enjoy that summer.
David Blair and his wife look at the list and start planning how they’ll spend their free time.
“And none of it has anything to do with sitting at home in front of a computer screen,” Blair says.
With Utah’s mountainous beauty literally in their backyard, the Blair family has plenty of options for adventures. They’ll hike, camp, swim, paddle and sightsee — creating the kinds of memories Blair remembers from his time in Scouting.
“Scouting is something that I would deeply encourage, just for the fact that it gets these youth out from their screen and puts something in their hands and in their eyesight that they’re not familiar with,” he says. “I feel like we’re getting less and less connected with the outdoors, and I feel like COVID only intensified that for many, many people. Scouting seems like a wonderful thing that’s needed more now than in any time in the last several decades in our country.”
As the summer has progressed, the Blair family has checked several items off the fridge list. But there is one item that rests solely on Blair’s powerful shoulders: “Win a gold medal in Tokyo.”
How to watch
The Tokyo Paralympics take place Aug. 24 to Sept. 5 on NBC, NBCSN, the Olympic Channel, NBCOlympics.com, the NBC Sports app and Peacock. See a full schedule here.
Blair, who holds the world record in his disability sport classification, will compete in the F64 classification in Tokyo. His event, the F64 men’s discus throw, takes place during the evening (Tokyo time) session on Sept. 2. That means he will be competing some time between 6 and 9:05 a.m. EDT on Sept. 2.