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Paralympic sprinter moves past mistakes of his youth

Hanger Clinic
IMG Academy trainee David Prince has overcome many obstacles on his way to becoming a world-record holding Paralympian

It took David Prince a long time to grow up.

At 17, Prince dropped out of high school and decided he'd make a living selling drugs. Then he crashed his motorcycle during a street race and his lower right leg was amputated.

Vowing to turn his life around, Prince, 29, changed his ways and has trained to become one of the top Paralympic sprinters in the world. This week he is in Lyon, France, for the IPC Athletics World Championships, which begin today. He is one of 15 U.S. athletes making the trip to worlds after competing in the Paralympics last summer.

Prince, a two-time national champion in the 400 meters, grew up the son of missionaries. His family moved a lot, so he didn't play organized sports, he said.

"Every once in a while, my brother and I would go to the track, and my dad would time us on the 400. We'd be proud as ever to run a 1:30 or 1:45," said Prince, who holds two world records on the track.

After his motorcycle crash, Prince said he continued to abuse drugs and was arrested. But he finally understood his lifestyle wouldn't get him anywhere.

"I realized if I didn't stop being with the people I sold drugs with and got high with, then I'd never get on my feet," Prince said. "I asked my mom if she would give me another chance, and I told her I would show her I was different."

His mother handed over her gym membership to enlist a sense of productivity in Prince. He focused his energy on working out.

After getting serious about triathlons, he was given his first set of prosthetics in 2005 from Hanger Inc. Prince raced in 18 triathlons before trying to qualify for the 2008 Paralympics. He just missed making the team in the high jump.

He later moved to train at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., with speed coach Loren Seagrave. In 2011, Prince traveled to Guadalajara, Mexico, for the Parapan American Games and won gold in the 200 and 400.

But a fall on a trampoline in December 2011 while playing with his son, Aiden, left Prince with a hyperextended knee to the lateral side. The London Paralympics were less than nine months away.

"I bent my knee at a 90-degree angle opposite my body," Prince said.

Prince was certain his running career was over.

"A lot of people (questioned) why David was even trying to get ready for the Olympic Games," Seagrave said. "I told David to give it a shot."

Prince was determined to get back on the track and was able to ready himself before the U.S. trials. In London he took bronze behind double-amputee winner Oscar Pistorius and U.S. teammate Blake Leeper, who claimed silver. During the race, Prince broke the world record for single-leg amputees. (He has since lowered that record and set another world record in the 200.)

Pistorius awaits trial in South Africa after being charged with premeditated murder in his girlfriend's death. He hasn't competed this season.

"He has definitely impacted the sport, and I'll miss him as a competitor. He (was) a phenomenal runner," Prince said. "I liked him as a guy, and it sucks that he is not here. But the sport goes on, and we still race."

Prince plans to keep racing for the chance to compete in the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro.

"There are still a lot of things he wants to accomplish in sport and through sport and his personal life," Seagrave said. "He is a lead-by-example kind of guy, and he's already touched so many lives of young developing athletes as well as high-level professionals."

Although Prince has a troubled past, he has moved on.

"The thing that's great about David is his dreams are bigger than his memories," Seagrave said.

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