Liam Malone, a Paralympic blade runner from New Zealand, smashed two Paralympic records previously held by Oscar Pistorius. The 22 year old got two gold medals and one silver at his first Paralympic games, and set a new world record in the men’s 400m T44 and beat Pistorius’ previous record in the 200m T44.
Here’s what you need to know about this extraordinary athlete.
1. He crowdfunded his first set of blades
In 2013 Liam appealed to the New Zealand public to assist in crowdfunding his first pair of carbon fibre racing blades, which cost $20,000, so he could compete in the Rio 2016 Paralympics. Trying to continue his training regime using his everyday prosthetic legs was becoming impossible, as his feet struggled to bear the weights he was lifting and also caused his stumps to become numb and painful while exercising.
“It’s just this dull, numb pain,” he told NZ’s News Hub in 2013, “almost like a sledgehammer hitting the ground every time I take a step. It’s just pummelling the bottom of my leg.” The crowdfunding campaign surpassed his goal and he managed to raise $25,000. Liam thanked the New Zealand public for their support during his Paralympic success.
2. His lower legs were amputated when he was 18 months old
Born with a rare condition called fibular hemimilia, meaning he was born without the fibula bone, for the first few months of Liam’s life he would prop himself up while standing on the inside of his feet. At 18 months his feet were amputated, and he got his first set of prosthetics. Liam regularly embellishes the truth and likes to tell people he lost his legs after they were bitten off by a great white shark off the coast of South Africa or as a result of frostbite, because “people kind of have to believe it, just because they wouldn’t expect someone to have two artificial limbs.”
3. Liam sought athletic advice from Oscar Pistorius ahead of the Paralympics
Pistorius was also born with fibular hemimilia, and ahead of the Rio games Liam made contact with Oscar and his coach via email and Skype. “He contacted with me and I talked to his coach via email searching for advice,” he explained to NZ’s Stuff. “All we talked about was training, and not his circumstances. It was purely business.” Oscar, the disgraced former Paralympian, is currently serving a six year prison sentence for fatally shooting his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in 2013.
4. He won his first medal on the same day as his late mother’s birthday
Liam credits his late mother Trudi Scott for encouraging him to pursue his goals and for his steadfast belief that he can do anything. “She was a driving force in developing my personality. She never let me use my legs as an excuse to get out of things,” he told NZ’s Stuff. Trudi passed away in 2012 after battling bowel cancer for a number of years. After he won his first medal at the Rio Paralympics, a silver in the men’s 100m T44 final, he gave an emotional tribute to his mother and wished her a happy birthday.
Just ahead of his third race, when he had already secured one gold and one silver medal, he told a reporter from the NZ Herald that he would trade his medals to get his mother back.
5. Liam’s from a small city called Nelson
The proud Kiwi comes from Nelson, a small city on New Zealand’s South Island, known as a hub for artists and creatives. It also boasts three national parks and was used as a filming location for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Liam’s hometown pride extends to Stoke, the suburb of Nelson that he calls home, and during the Paralympic games he created an ‘S’ symbol with his hands as a nod to his hometown.
But in a strong show of sportsmanship, Liam draped himself in both the New Zealand and the Brazilian flag after winning gold at the men’s 400m T44. “I flew the Brazilian flag today because it is like when you go to someone’s house you say thank you for having me,” he explained after the race. “That is what that was – to say thank you to the Brazilian people for hosting the Paralympic Games.”