NEW YORK — One of the world’s most decorated athletes is making a comeback at the age of 60, but his return goes far deeper than just sports.
This Paralympics champion is the focus of this week’s Snapshot New York with Steve Overmyer.
Doug Heir may have no grip, but an ace bandage allows him to cling to one more chance at Olympic glory.
Heir is the most decorated Olympian in history with 336 gold medals in the Paralympic games. He’s even been featured on a Wheaties box and became an international celebrity.
That journey started with tragedy in 1979 when Heir was a lifeguard trying to save a drowning child. He dove into the pool, hit his head on the bottom and broke his neck.
Heir’s brother, Brian, was there to pull him out.
“I was in shock. Is this really happening? Is this going to be part of his life?” Brian Heir said.
Doug would never again have feeling below his chest. But Heir didn’t have time to feel sorry for himself. Brian wouldn’t let him.
“First weeks in the hospital, he’d be putting duct tape with a one-pound weight on my wrist when he leaves the hospital and say, ‘I’ll see you tomorrow,’” Heir said.
Heir learned how to throw a javelin, shot put and discus in his backyard. His first competition was one year to the day after his accident. He not only won, he broke the world record in all three events.
“The first one was really pretty special, I gotta say. My brother was there,” Heir said.
“Losers let it happen. Winners make it happen. The definition of my brother is a winner. He makes it happen,” Brian Heir said.
Even after his athletic career was over, Doug Heir kept winning. This time as a personal injury lawyer representing Christopher Reeve, among others.
Heir is now taking on a new challenge, table tennis, two decades after retiring.
“He’s the number one wheelchair athlete in the world as javelin, shot put and discus. Now he’s gonna do it in ping-pong and table tennis. What could be better?” Heir’s brother said.
Heir has been training for months with a world-renowned coach and his brother, of course.
“The ability for a handicapped, for somebody who has no finger dexterity to be able to do this is just brilliant,” Brian Heir said.
“I don’t know how far it’s going to go. I think I’m ranked 20th in the world right now, which is pretty good. But I think there’s only 20 players. So not too bad,” Doug Heir said.
Heir can’t grip the paddle. He has no mobility below the chest and limited shoulder movement. But he’s also reminding everyone it’s not about what you don’t have. It’s about who you have.
What they’ve already realized is this journey in front of them isn’t about winning a gold medal. It’s about their brotherhood.
“It’s just amazing that we’re reliving what we did 20 years ago all over again. But it’s more exciting now because we’re older,” Brian Heir said.
“If God could send me an angel as a brother … I’m so lucky. If I get another Wheaties box or I get a gold medal, he’s with me. So, we did it together,” Doug Heir said.
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