By Hilary Whiteman
(CNN) — A few months ago, he was the double-amputee who smashed barriers to compete for Olympic glory. Now police are investigating the fatal shooting of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp at his upscale Pretoria home.
It’s a shocking twist in the story of South African athlete Oscar Pistorius who just months ago was hailed as a hero and inspiration for becoming the first double-amputee to compete at the able-bodied Olympics.
While he failed to win a medal at the London 2012 Games, Pistorius’ presence on the track represented a victory for the South African who successfully challenged early refusals for the right to compete.
Born with a congenital abnormality, Pistorius had both his legs amputated below the knee at 11 months of age. He has often spoken of his determination not to let his disability define his life and now runs on carbon fiber prosthetic blades — which led to him being known by the media-coined moniker, “Blade Runner.”
“I grew up in a family where disability was never an issue. We didn’t really speak about my disability, not because it was a topic that was taboo… it was just never an issue. And that’s the mentality that I’ve had,” Pistorius told CNN’s Piers Morgan in December last year.
From a young age, Pistorius dedicated himself to being the best he could be at sport.
“I was never much of an academic at school so I had to find something which I enjoyed. I started sports and from a very young age, my mother said to us ‘sports is not about being the best, but it’s about giving your best.’
“You might make the second or third team, but losing isn’t the one that gets involved and comes last, it’s the person that doesn’t get involved in the first place,” he said.
As a child, Pistorius competed in water polo, cricket, tennis, triathlons and Olympic wrestling and boxing, before he smashed his knee while playing rugby at the age of 16. He took up track running as part of his rehabilitation and within one year he was covering 100 meters faster than the existing Paralympic world record.
In 2004, Pistorius took his first gold at the Athens Paralympics and one year later competed against able-bodied Olympics for the first time, at the South African Championships.
Pistorius’ career on the track suffered a setback in 2009 when he suffered serious head injuries in a boating accident. It took him almost eight weeks to recover, a period of time the athlete has described as “fairly difficult” as it marked the first season in four or five years in which he didn’t record a personal best.
Soon after the London Olympics, Pistorius led his national team onto the track as South African Flag-bearer in the Opening Ceremony of the Paralympic Games. He went on to set a new world record in the 200-meter event but later suffered a shock defeat in the final, his first competitive loss over the distance in nine years.
During the very last track event of the Paralympics, Pistorius again picked himself up and smashed the 400-meter T44 Paralympic record in a time of 46.68 to take gold. It ended a summer he later described as “a dream come true,” according to his website.
Pistorius’ determination to succeed has made him one of the world’s most recognizable athletes. He’s backed by big name sponsors including Nike, Oakley, BT, Ossur and fashion designer Thierry Mugler.
He’s appeared on the cover of men’s magazine, GQ Style, under the headline “Man of the Future,” and was last year named on People magazine’s list of “Sexiest Man Alive.”
According to his website, Pistorius is an ambassador for the Mineseeker Foundation, a non-profit organization which works to clear landmines worldwide. And in July he plans to launch his own foundation.
When asked about his thoughts on being a role model, Pistorius told CNN: “I think it’s a massive blessing.
“Obviously, being an international sportsman, there’s a lot of responsibility that comes with that. So having to remember that there are kids out there, especially, that look up to you is definitely something that you need to keep at the back of your mind.”
Pistorius has almost 230,000 followers on Twitter. His last post, on February 12, linked to an Instagram image of himself with a young boy on prosthetic limbs with the message, “In the run up to the launch of my foundation in July I will give at least 10 kids mobility!”