US Paralympic star Jerome Singleton talks success on and off the track

theGRIO REPORT - Even as a child growing up in South Carolina, Jerome Singleton Jr. displayed a natural talent for sports...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

Even as a child growing up in South Carolina, Jerome Singleton Jr. displayed a natural talent for sports.

In seventh-grade, he made his middle school’s basketball team. By the time he reached seventeen he was one of the top 100 high school football players in the state.

Singleton says he was able to compete alongside his able-bodied peers not only because of sporting prowess, but due to an unyielding determination to succeed. “I believe I have been blessed with a gift to excel in different facets of my life.”

The middle child of three children, Singleton recalls a loving and supportive family home. He credits his parents, Jerome and Jacqueline, for their selfless support and high expectations, despite his disability.

Born in July 1986 and raised in Greenwood, South Carolina, Singleton was born without a fibula and had his right leg amputated below the knee when he was just 18 months old. Talking about overcoming challenges, he says, “I want to show people they can change their life.”

By high school he was playing football and basketball, as well as running on the track, with a prosthetic limb –not the ‘J shaped’ leg he uses today. Paradoxically, Singleton reveals close friends have given him the nickname “turtle” because “he does everything slow, except running.”

Even with his youthful optimism, Singleton does acknowledge facing setbacks and bouts of “self-consciousness.” He admits, he tried to conceal his amputated leg by “wearing long socks” and at times, his prosthetic foot would break off while he was playing sports.

“It’s only as I got older, especially competing in the Paralympics, that I have come to fully embrace my disability,” says the 26-year-old.

Singleton’s journey to the Beijing 2008 Paralympics began in his sophomore year at Atlanta’s Morehouse College, while he was studying a dual degree in math and applied physics, on a NASA scholarship. He went to the track coach at Morehouse and told him, “I want to be a Paralympian,” he says.

“Morehouse has made me the man I am today,” he says. “I was surrounded by people who looked like me, including African American male professors; after that I knew I didn’t have any more excuses.”

His academic talents also gave him the opportunity to intern at NASA and Cern, the European Organization for Nuclear Physics in Geneva.