The world's fastest amputee will have a lot of Lowcountry support when the ESPY awards are announced next week.
Jerome Singleton Jr., who won the 100-meter event at the paralympic world championships in New Zealand last January, is one of five ESPY nominees for Best Male Athlete With a Disability.
"It has been a goal of mine to one day be nominated," Singleton said. "But to have it actually come to fruition so quickly, it was really humbling."
The ESPYs, or Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly awards, are presented annually on ESPN. This year's show will be televised live July 13 at 9 p.m.
Singleton, 24, is a graduate of Dutch Fork High School in Columbia, but his ties to the Charleston area run deep. His father, Jerome Sr., grew up in Hollywood, where much of his family still lives, and graduated from Baptist Hill High School. Singleton was born in Greenwood but lived in Charleston for four years while his father coached football at Burke High School. The elder Singleton is now commissioner of the South Carolina High School League.
The world championships provided career highlights for Singleton. He won the 100 meters by beating world-renowned South African Oscar Pistorius, who had not lost in that event in seven years. Singleton also won silver medals in the 200 and the 4x100 relay in New Zealand.
Singleton was born without a fibula in his right leg. Doctors at the Shriners Hospital for Children in Greenville explained to Jerome and Jacqueline Singleton what the options were for their son. They
made the agonizing decision to amputate before Singleton was old enough to walk, thus allowing him to learn with a prosthesis.
"They said he will never know the difference. That rascal, from the time he was born, he was about as active a child as you'd ever seen," Singleton's father said.
"He was as natural an athlete as any able-bodied kid I've ever seen. He played point guard on basketball teams growing up. He ran hurdles because his sister (Shalena) ran hurdles. He played linebacker on the football team. Those things came natural to him."
Singleton Jr. said he never let his handicap slow him down.
"When I was growing up, I was lucky to be in a family that didn't treat me differently," he said. "Athletics is where I made my long-lasting friends. I took part in ROTC. I was just one of the guys. Because of athletics, I know how to interact with people and come together for a common cause."
As good an athlete as Singleton was, he became an even better student at Morehouse College in Atlanta, where he was a NASA Scholar and graduated with degrees in math and applied physics.
It was at Morehouse that he was introduced to the paralympic program. He was researching prostheses when he came across the website www.paralympic.org.
Singleton, who originally planned to play football at Morehouse, joined the track team. He began competing in meets and qualified for the 2008 Paralympics, where he faced Pistorius in the 100 for the first time. Pistorius, a double amputee, beat him by 0.03 seconds.
After finishing at Morehouse, Singleton enrolled at the University of Michigan to continue training, and last December, he received a third degree in industrial operations and engineering.
"I always had a desire to do well, and the idea of the dumb jock always bothered me. I wanted to excel in the classroom as well as on the field," Singleton said.
As for the future, his focus is on training for the 2012 Paralympics in London while also helping others get involved in the paralympic movement.
"Overcoming a challenge makes you stronger," he said. "I spend a lot of time going to different camps and speaking to different groups. I want to be there and play a role in the next generation."
The voting deadline for the ESPYs is midnight Saturday. To vote, go to espn.go.com/espys/#!/voting.
Who: Jerome Singleton Jr., nominee for Best Male Athlete With a Disability
What: ESPN annual awards show July 13 at 9 p.m.
To vote: Go to espn.go.com/espys/#!/voting/
Voting deadline. Midnight, Saturday