The Edmond Sun

December 3, 2007

A world class marriage, Part II

Top Paralympic athletes live, train together

Justin Martino

EDMOND — When Roderick and Katrin Green talk about their training, they talk about spending three hours a day training for international track and field events. They talk about looking for sponsors, keeping their bodies in shape, being aware of what they eat and altering their lifestyle in order to compete.

They don�t talk about what it�s like running with prosthetic legs. Each lost a leg below the knee at an early age and now compete in Paralympic games and other events with amputee athletes. Roderick was born without an ankle and had his foot amputed when he was 2. Katrin, who grew up on a farm in Germany, lost her leg when a blade flew from a piece of farm equipment.

The two met at the Paralympic Games in Athens in 2004, and are now married and living in Oklahoma City. Both continue to compete in international track and field events, juggling their competition and training with jobs and college.

Disappointment in Atlanta

The couple recently returned from Atlanta, where Roderick competed in the trials for the U.S. Paralympics Track and Field World Championships in Assen, The Netherlands, which will take place in August. Despite finishing second in the 100-yard dash and fourth in the pentathlon, Roderick wasn�t named to the team.

The reason for that, he said, was that Marlon Shirley, a current world-record holder, was named to the team despite not competing in the trials and having previously said he would not be able to compete this year. Shirley has previously made news by accusing a South African athlete of using prosthetic limbs that are too long, giving him an extra advantage.

Roderick said he was most disappointed that younger athletes who also met the standards to compete in the World Championships also did not make the final team.

�We have younger athletes that come in and meet the standards and aren�t going,� he said. �They�re going to be discouraged.�

Besides being a disappointment, the result of the trials has caused Roderick to shift his goals over the next couple of years.

�My goal is now, I don�t have a set time to run. My set goal is to break a world record,� he said. �I�m either going to tie the world record or better the world record. That�s my goal.�

Katrin said the results were also a disappointment for her. Currently a German citizen, Katrin will be competing at the events as a member of the German national team. Roderick will still attend as her coach, but will not be staying in the village for the athletes.

�For me, it would�ve been great if both of us had been in Championship Village together and could do this as a couple,� she said.

Though disappointing, neither plans on slowing down on competitions because of the trial results. Both say they are driven to compete.

Roderick, who did not compete in organized sports until he was 12, said that it just became part of his life, and said people who don�t start so young find competition just becomes a part of their lives.

�It�s almost programmed,� he said. �All you know is �I want to do this. I want to be the best at this.� So every time you wake up in the morning, you�re like �I want to do something better. I want to better myself today.��

Katrin, who didn't start competing until she was 16, said she never expected to be a world-class track and field athlete.

�I have never been interested in track and field or anything,� she said. �I grew up on a farm, far away from organized sports. I honestly didn�t like it for the first one and a half year or so, because in Germany there was just way too much pressure.�

But because she discovered how good she could be, and the more relaxed training she has with Roderick, she can�t imagine not competing.

�Now, I�m just to the point that I see my competition, I see right now I'm second best in the world,� she said. �Why not do this step to become the first? I�m so close and still so far away, and I know my mistakes that I still do, so I know I can improve them. You just see those goals and want to do it better.�

Gaining respect

Despite their success and their dedication, Roderick and Katrin both say they are frustrated by the general view that amputee athletes are not �real athletes.�

�I can tell by the amount of sponsors, on average, that every athlete in Paralympic sports has compared to able-bodied sports,� he said, talking about his own search for sponsorships. �I had a response back saying that amputee and Paralympic athletes weren�t real athletes.�

Roderick knows what it�s like to not only compete with other amputee athletes, but also with able-bodied athletes. He played basketball for Oklahoma Christian University, and tried out � and was offered a spot � on a professional basketball team in Germany while he and Katrin visited there, despite even being called a cripple by one of the other players trying out.

Because of problems with the INS, Roderick and Katrin were unable to stay in Germany so he could play basketball in the league. Despite that, Roderick said he considered it a victory for himself and for amputee athletes.

�I guess it�s going to take more of that as well for people to really respect amputee or Paralympic athletes as a whole,� he said. �I think it�s going to take more people like me going to college and playing ball or more amputees saying they�re going to take it to the next level and play with the able bodies.�

Katrin said she is always amazed by people who don�t realize the amount of dedication that goes into being an athlete, choosing instead to focus on the fact that the competitors have prosthetic limbs.

�It�s so important that people comprehend we put half of our lives into sports, and then we get answers like �you're not real athletes,�� she said. �I am just amazed.�

She added that people don�t seem to realize that an amputee athlete competes just as hard as any other.

�If you see people on an everyday basis, they see you climbing up a tree, they say �I�m so amazed! You're able to climb up a tree with your prosthetic leg!� or �I'm so amazed! You can wear flipflops with this leg?� but then they see you running on the track and you run world class times and you�re faster than they would ever be in their life, even if they would start training, and they say you're not a real athlete,� she said. �Where's the consistency?�

Roderick and Katrin said their biggest support comes from Scott Sabolich�s prosthetic research center, located on the Broadway Extension.

�I can walk through the door, she can walk through the door, any time, unannounced, and there�s help,� he said. �Tha�'s like our second family. There's no time where I can�t call anyone.�

And when you�re balancing training for international events, work, school and also trying to live a normal life as a married couple, the people who recognize your talent and dedication is nice, Roderick said.

�Right now, I really don�t think society around the world, in any country, really knows what it takes to be an amputee athlete,� he said.