Paralympian Vertical

“To be born without one leg is one in a million,” says Leeper, a 24-year-old track runner. “Both is unheard of.”

His doctors said they’d never seen anything like it, and had to refer his parents to another physician. Leeper started wearing prosthetics when he was 9 months old, but grew up nonchalant about his disability. At age 4, he began playing basketball with his father and brother. “I’ve been an athlete my whole life,” he says. “I love that feeling. I love winning, and I love the teamwork.”

Leeper found his true calling in track and field around the age of 18. In 2008, the Challenged Athletes Foundation awarded him a grant to obtain the Ossur Cheetahs, the prosthetics that Oscar Pistorius used to race in. Leeper went on to win gold at the 2012 U.S. Paralympic National Championships in the 100-, 200-, and 400-meter sprints, and took silver in the 400 at the 2012 Paralympic Games.

“[When a race] starts off, I’m just really happy to be there,” Leeper says. “I mean, when you break it down, the doctors said I’d never walk a day in my life. So when you look at the bigger picture, it’s huge for me just to be able to make it there.”

Next Up: The Summer Olympics

He has his eyes on a prize loftier than just winning races—he wants the big stage. “I want to be the first American double-leg amputee to qualify for the Olympics,” he says. “My times are getting faster each and every year, and I’m competing against able-bodied athletes.”

Leeper trains with them as well, in San Diego, six days a week for three or four sessions a day. Meanwhile, he’s also completing his degree in applied physics—a not-incidental major, as he’d like to work in the field of prosthetics, paving the way for future generations of disabled athletes. He wants to inspire them with his success, and remains dedicated to his ultimate goal: competing in the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo.

“My whole life, I’ve had to work out just to be average,” he says. “I’ve had to give all I’ve got just to keep up with the group. People may say, ‘Man, that’s tough,’ but at the end of the day, it’s made me a stronger person.”

To those with disabilities, Leeper has one thing to say: “Never be scared. If a disability holds you back from what you’re trying, try it a different way.”

INSPIRE US: Got a comeback you want heard? Tell us your story at