SOURCE: The RHL Group

The RHL Group

May 25, 2016 08:30 ET

Paralympic Gold Medalist Patrick "Blake" Leeper Leaps Back Into the Race After Receiving Letter From U.S. Olympic Committee

LOS ANGELES, CA--(Marketwired - May 25, 2016) -  Patrick "Blake" Leeper, eight-time Paralympic Track and Field international medalist, world record holder and three-time American record holder, will begin his quest to break the 400-meter Paralympic world record set by Oscar Pistorius in 2012, starting June 21st, 2016. Leeper received official notification from the United States Olympic Committee's Paralympic Track and Field High Performance Director confirming his spot in the U.S. Paralympic Team Trials that commence June 30th in Charlotte, North Carolina. The notification also recognized a one-year suspension agreement that Leeper and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) had previously entered into. With the receipt of the official notification, Leeper steps closer to his quest to break the 400-meter Paralympic world record set by Oscar Pistorius. For Leeper to have gotten to this point has been equal parts impossible, dramatic and uplifting.

Leeper started his medal run in 2011 at the Parapan American Games where he took silver in the 100-meter dash. He went on to compete in the 2012 Paralympic Games in London, where he picked up two more medals, a bronze in the 200-meter dash and silver in the 400-meter dash, losing to South African Oscar Pistorius, whose world record of 45.39 seconds is the one Leeper is chasing. In 2013, Leeper also took four medals at the Paralympic World Championships in Lyon, France, where he ran as part of the world record-setting 4x100-meter relay gold medal team. At the same event he took the silver medal in the 100-meter dash, 200-meter dash and 400-meter dash.

Leeper's medal collection includes one gold, six silver and one bronze. Over his career, he hopes to win more medals than any Paralympic athlete in track and field. In addition to the medals he has already won, Leeper holds one 2013 Paralympic world record in the 4x100m relay and three American records in the 100-meter dash (10.91), the 200-meter dash (21.7) and the 400-meter dash (48.3). Leeper's world record for his part in the 4x100-meter relay still stands today.

The 26-year-old Leeper, who was born without legs from a congenital birth defect, did not start racing until 2010. It was at his first ever race in Edmond, Oklahoma that he caught the attention of the Associate Director of High Performance for U.S. Paralympics Track and Field, who convinced his parents to let their son move into the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California, where he started his habit of winning. That's when Leeper left the University of Tennessee to embark on a journey that no one could envision for a kid from Tennessee born without legs. 

Unfortunately, Leeper had other habits in his life that he has had to overcome. At the age of 15, he started drinking. Then in 2015, he opened a letter from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency telling him that he was suspended after he tested positive for a prohibited substance (even though this was a nonperformance-enhancing drug). That event led to the formation of Team Leepster, Leeper's new management team formed by Entrepreneur-Philanthropist Robert H. "Bob" Lorsch, who funded The Robert H. Lorsch Foundation Trust before Leeper was five-years-old. The purpose of the Foundation was to encourage youth participation in life-changing challenges through science, technology or athletics completing a marathon, triathlon, or other life-changing challenge. When Lorsch recruited Adam Krajchir, formerly head coach and program director for the New York Road Runners Team for Kids for his Foundation, he never expected that he would be building a program that would lead him to Leeper, who truly sets an example of participating in a life-changing challenge.

So after learning about Leeper's situation, Lorsch led the initiative to get him sober while building a support system for the runner, including world-class coaching that includes Olympic Gold Medalist and Super Bowl Champion Willie Gault, nutritional and weight training programs led by Johann Stefansson at Muscle Mechanics, a team of psychiatric recovery experts and other medical professionals from The Bresler Center, entertainment executive and former COO and Co-head of the CW Television Network John D. Maatta, sports marketing expertise and funding through The Victorino Noval Foundation, and financial and business management from Nigro Karlin Segal Feldstein & Bolno. Patrick also continues to be sponsored by Nike, Eastman Chemical Company, Probulin, Internet entrepreneur and Webcreators founder David Vanderveer, and with support from Quest Nutrition.

Team Leepster's first and foremost objective was to support Leeper in his sobriety and set an example of what can be done regardless of the adversities life throws your way. According to Lorsch, "Through a team of legal professionals, Team Leepster reached out to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to negotiate a reduction to what was originally a two-year suspension from competition. After months of negotiations, the parties all agreed that a one-year suspension was appropriate and a settlement agreement was signed by Leeper, subject to a right to appeal by certain parties."

"I have never been more in the background for Patrick than in negotiating his settlement with USADA," Lorsch continued. "Despite the demands that were made in his agreement, he just wanted to compete by running. USADA wanted to make sure he got the help that he needed and he remained in recovery with the understanding that if he did, he could run after one year. USADA has been 100% supportive and is doing its best to keep their agreement by allowing him to run starting June 21st."

In a letter dated February 8 of this year from the U.S. Paralympic Track and Field High Performance Director, it was acknowledged that "those who knew Blake are confused about how they missed any signs of this disease, but we did." The letter goes on, "We cannot turn our back on an athlete that has a disease and needs help. Blake's new commitment and positive direction will make Blake an even better ambassador and spokesperson for our sport and our community." The letter continues, "Blake's personality and his willingness to speak publicly about his struggles and the daily efforts he is making to keep his life "on track," will enable us and Blake to reach tens of thousands of young people who may be experiencing the same or similar issues and struggles. It is a good teaching moment for our program and other programs."

Leeper's run for redemption was chronicled in a March 3, 2016 article in the Los Angeles Times in which he discusses his road to recovery. His journey to becoming a world record holder started in 2010 when he left college and moved to the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California. Shortly after his arrival, on his first trip to the world championships, it started to become clear that he had a problem with alcohol.

"Symptoms of my disease were discovered by one of the sports program managers and my fellow athletes in January 2011 on my first trip to the IPC Athletics World Championships in New Zealand," said Leeper. "I took a night off to go unwind from the stress of running four races in less than a week. I was out all night until 6:00 a.m. and was seen coming back to the hotel in the same clothes I left in. After returning from New Zealand, I was caught twice with empty bottles in my room and in December 2011 I was suspended for two alcohol violations for three weeks and placed on a 90-day probation. However, when I returned for the 90 days, everything went back to normal as if nothing happened. So I kept winning and everyone seemed to ignore my signs of drinking. It wasn't until February of 2015 that I was given a presentation on alcoholism and told that everybody on the campus knew about my problem and was worried."

Willie Gault, who as mentioned also coaches Leeper, said, "Patrick has been running hard to get ready for a record setting comeback. He has been training relentlessly. Combine his training regimen on the track with his training regimen in the weight room, and his recovery programs at The Bresler Center, and this kid is nothing but totally committed. I look forward to traveling with him to Hamilton, Ontario one day after his suspension is supposed to expire where he plans to run for a qualifying time in the U.S. Olympic Team Trials prior to participating in the U.S. Paralympic Team Trials in Charlotte, North Carolina and Eugene, Oregon."

According to Maatta, who has been advising Lorsch on the building of Team Leepster since December 2015, "After following the entire process, USADA clearly supports the well-recognized right to conclude arbitration proceedings by way of negotiated settlement, especially one that includes a recovery program that is in the best interest of an athlete. The entire situation was unfortunate to the point of tragic, but the USADA demonstrated great skill and wisdom in concluding the matter by way of a settlement that was firm but fair to both the individual athlete and sanctity of the sport."

In spite of the signed settlement agreement, and the limited right to appeal it, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) decided not to appeal and instead emailed a letter, which none of the recipients actually received, until 10 days after it was dated and after the appeal period had expired. The IPC letter stated that it did not recognize the right of USADA to settle an arbitration. No copy of the letter was sent to the athlete.
Still, because of the May 20th notification letter from the United States Olympic Committee's Paralympic Track and Field High Performance Director, Leeper is once again poised to accomplish the impossible. And notwithstanding all the political intrigue and legal wrangling, Lorsch has kept the athlete on track so that he is a living example of how anyone can overcome any obstacle. As of the date of this news release Patrick "Blake" Leeper is sober and clean and ready to run for gold in Rio.

About Patrick "Blake" Leeper:

Patrick "Blake" Leeper's rise to champion is both heart-rending and inspiring. Born in Tennessee in 1989 without legs below the knee, he was supposed to spend his life in a wheelchair. But by nine, he was able to play sports on some very basic artificial legs, coached by his father. While he was attending the University of Tennessee, the Challenged Athletes Foundation saw his potential and provided him with a pair of $30,000 carbon-filter running prosthetics. The U.S. Olympic Committee selected him as just one of 12 athletes to reside at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., and he won a silver medal in the World Championships in the 100-meter relay in 2011. The charismatic runner was a media star and a hit with donors to the games.

At the 2012 Paralympic Games in London, Leeper earned a bronze in the 200 meters and a silver in the 400 meters, just behind Oscar Pistorius. After the South African's conviction for murder, Leeper was expected to be a gold contender for the 2016 Paralympics and possibly the main Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Then in June 2015, he was given a two-year suspension for using a nonperformance-enhancing substance. This would have precluded him from going to Rio, but Los Angeles businessman-philanthropist Robert H. "Bob" Lorsch, after learning about Patrick's situation, formed #TeamLeepster which negotiated a one-year suspension, with the expectation that he can go to the Paralympic and Olympic trials.

For more information about Patrick "Blake" Leeper's career, visit www.PatrickBlakeLeeper.com or follow #teamleepster.

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