PHILADELPHIA -- I feel more qualified to comment about Oscar Pistorius than when I first wrote about him 3 1/2 years ago.
In a column that was published on Jan. 16, 2008, I blasted the International Association of Athletics Federations for its ridiculous decision to ban Pistorius, who was born without fibulas in both legs, from competing against able-bodied athletes in the 400 meters.
The argument was that the prosthetics Pistorius used to run on gave him a measurable advantage over runners with two real legs.
In a statement I can only now laugh at with irony, I wrote:
"I can't even begin to imagine the effort it took to learn to walk with prosthetics, much less run and sprint at world-class level. The mental challenge of overcoming naysayers was probably as grueling as the physical aspects."
Today I comment about this from personal experience.
A little less than two years ago, I went through a medical crisis that put me in a hospital for nearly 2 1/2 months.
One of the numerous medications I was given had the collateral effect of causing my toes to atrophy.
All 10 of my digits were amputated.
A little more than a year ago, my feet, or what was left of them, had healed enough for me to begin learning how to walk again using prosthetics.
I describe my prosthetics as a miniversion of Pistorius' Flex-Foot Cheetahs.
They are braces that strap on just below my knees and have a carbon-fiber blade that runs down the side of the legs and under my feet.
The blades act as my toes. They help me with balance, stability and impact distribution.
It has not been easy. In fact, it has been damn difficult.
It is an ongoing process that has been draining physically and mentally.
Even after a year, I'll still occasionally wobble, get off stride and stumble.
Like most people, walking used to be something I just did. I rarely thought about my toes unless I stubbed them.
Now walking is a conscious process where steps have to be thought out ahead, lest I end up in a situation I can't recover from and end up falling.
Jogging, running or even walking without a cane to provide additional stability are still a ways down the road.
I can't begin to imagine the amount of effort and work it took for Pistorius to approach world-class times running on prosthetics.
I knew Pistorius had his ban by the IAAF reversed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport on May 16, 2008, but I hadn't thought much about him lately.
He was sometimes competing against able-bodied runners, but I figured his Olympic dreams were over because he would never make the qualifying standard.
But last month at a meet in Lignano, Italy, Pistorius ran a 400 in 45.07 seconds.
It wasn't just a personal best, but it was also within the "A" standard qualification mark for the 2011 World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, and the 2012 Olympics in London.
On Monday, Pistorius was officially named to the South African team for the World Championships at the end of the month. He will compete in the 400 and the 4 x 400 relay.
Pistorius, 24, must again surpass the "A" standard of 45.25 between January and June 2012 to be qualified to compete in the London Olympics, but considering he's already done it once . . .
Not surprising, but with Pistorius having reached the qualifying standard, naysayers are again popping up, claiming he has an unfair advantage because of his blades.
Without pointing to the fact that the Court of Arbitration for Sport has already ruled that there is no evidence that Pistorius had a net advantage over able-bodied athletes, I'll tell all of the skeptics and critics how wrong they are.
They can point to some scientist claiming that Pistorius' prosthetics give him as much as a 10- to 12-second advantage noting things like how quickly he can reposition his lighter legs as he strides, the force he exerts or the longer length of time his prosthetics remain on the ground.
Other scientists who studied and tested Pistorius and his Cheetahs have strongly disagreed with that conclusion.
The truly ignorant have formed arguments as if Pistorius has some kind of "Six Million Dollar Man" bionic legs.
Three years ago, I concluded that it only takes common sense to understand this.
Today, I speak with that same common sense strengthened by real-life experience.
For more than 40 years, I walked on this planet with 10 toes attached to my feet.
For the last year, I've been learning to walk with those amputated toes compensated for by prosthetics.
The latter has required infinitely more work and I am not nearly as efficient as I was before.
So really, unless you want to lose your legs or simply have your toes amputated so that you can begin to understand what it is like to function with prosthetics, don't tell me that Pistorius has some kind of competitive advantage.
The only advantage his disability has afforded him is the insane drive, desire and work ethic that were needed to approach the accomplishments of his able-bodied peers.