GLEN DALE - At 23 months old, Cooper Blair's feet were amputated to give him a chance at a more normal life. Little did his mother know that he would exceed everyone's expectations again and again.
Now 10 years old, Cooper has already won gold medals during running competitions. Ultimately, he wants to be a member of the Paralympic team for the United States, said his mother, Richelle Blair of Glen Dale.
"He teaches me something new every day - to not take life for granted, that there isn't anything we can't do, that we can do anything. He's my hero; I look up to him," she said.
Cooper Blair, 10, of Glen Dale competes in a race using his “cheetah legs.”
Cooper, who will enter fifth grade this fall at Our Lady of Peace in Mount Olivet, was born with a rare disease called amniotic band syndrome, a condition in which amniotic bands restrict blood flow to a fetus' limbs or sometimes the face. To try and correct what the disease did to his feet, new casts were put on him weekly.
"His feet were almost backward and he had no toes on one foot," Blair said.
After many months of casting, at 20 months old, Cooper was referred to a specialist at Johns Hopkins Hospital who said if the procedures were continued, he likely would have to live his life using a wheelchair. But if his feet were amputated, he could live as close to normal a life as possible.
"I thought about it and I realized he can run and play just as much with prosthetics. After praying and research, I decided it was the best route to go," she said. "I can honestly say I don't regret the decision at all because he is happy with who he is."
Cooper is competing at the Endeavor Games in Oklahoma City - the same event he won gold at last year in the 20, 60, 100 and 200-meter runs. Before returning home, Cooper and his mother will travel to Louisville, Ky., Monday for the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team's second annual Kids Camp.
Endeavor and the camp, Blair said, are venues for her son to meet and learn from other amputees of all ages.
"I'm hoping he can see that there are no limitations as to what he can do. ... He can see and interact with other kids like him. There aren't many children in Wheeling with amputations. Out there, he can see peers who are taking their disabilities and using them to their full potential," Blair said.
Cooper is looking forward to seeing friends he made last year at the competition.
"We all have something - no feet or no arm. We all just have fun and make jokes, and we all practice all year long," Cooper said. "I go out there and have fun with all these people. Once a year, I have fun with all of them, racing against them to see who will win."
Blair said she is always impressed with Cooper's positive attitude.
"He has a different personality than most kids. God made him that way. ... If you tell him he can't do something, he finds a way to prove you wrong," she said.
During the Wounded Warrior Kids Camp, Blair and 19 other children, all of whom have had amputations or are missing limbs, will be coached by Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans who also are amputees. The camp will end with a game June 13 between the children at Louisville Slugger Field, the 13,000-seat home of the Louisville Bats, the Cincinnati Reds' Triple-A affiliate.
"Since we started touring in 2011, we've been inviting young, local amputees to serve as batboys and batgirls at our games across the country," said coach David Van Sleet. "You wouldn't believe the positive impact a single game can make on them. To have a full five days to work with and inspire these kids - kids who are at such an impressionable age - is one of the most amazing opportunities we could have asked for."
"Suffering a life-altering injury is traumatic and scary, there's no doubt about that," Van Sleet continued. "But it's our mission to show people that life-altering doesn't have to mean life-ending. It's still possible to follow your passions after an injury. You just have to take a different approach. And that's what our guys are here to teach these kids."