When I was sixteen my leg was run over by a bus. I was waiting at the station and there were about sixty people behind me forming a wall. The bus driver made a maneuver and accidentally drove into the crowd and there was nowhere for me to go. My leg was crushed and after unsuccessful surgery they had to amputate it below the knee.
It was devastating to lose my leg at that age. I had been going to a regular high school but after the accident I decided to go to a trade school that taught specific skills to disabled people. I learned to be a machinist – to manufacture various metal components using machines.
Prior to the accident I was quite athletic. At the trade school one of the physical education teachers noticed my muscular build.
“Hey, you are a big guy, why don't you come and join the track and field team?”
So I joined and was introduced to various sports: archery, javelin, shot put…etcetera. I excelled in high school and after a few years I went to the Polish nationals and medaled in national competitions. In 1984 I qualified to represent Poland in the Paralympic Games in Uniondale, New York. I came over with a small team but we did well. We took fourth place as a team and were competing against some countries that had four or five times more athletes than we did. I participated in javelin and shot put and the relay race. Individually I didn't medal, but I competed in the 100 and 400 meter dash. I was the weakest link of the team but we won gold and silver.
At the end of the Paralympic Games I decided to request political asylum in America. At the time Poland was under a communist regime. History has shown that things changed, but back then you didn’t know what would happen – Poland could have been under a Communist regime for another hundred years. I had no clue I was going to request asylum, but when I got here I realized it was a great opportunity to start a new life in a country that offered so much more than Poland. I knew it would be my only opportunity to come here.
I got licensed as a machinist and was working in Mineola, New York – but I started having issues with my prosthetic device. This is very typical with amputees. We go through the same weight and body changes as everyone else but the prosthetic device doesn’t change, so it ends up being ill-fitting and uncomfortable. Since I was having trouble with my device I reached out to a prosthetic facility in West Hempstead, New York.
The owner was a kind German man who had lost his leg to a land mine explosion in World War II…
Goose Chronicles Outtakes:
“How do they select who competes against who in the Paralympic Games?”
“A whole team of medical doctors analyzes your condition and determines which group of people you should compete against, because there is a whole spectrum of being ‘disabled.’ You compete against other individuals not by age or weight class but by disability. So a below-the-knee amputee will compete against other below-the-knee amputees. The doctors figure it all out so it’s a fair competition.”
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