Marlon Shirley, former world record holder for the 100-meter dash, will speak for a Southern Adventist University convocation on Thursday, October 4. The message of overcoming adversity has powerful implications for students on academic, relational, and spiritual levels.
Shirley has won several bonze, silver, and gold medals, and received ESPY Awards in 2003 and 2005. Yet these awards are for a specific category of athletics. Shirley’s medals come from representing the U.S. in the Paralympics, and his ESPY Awards are for Best Athlete with a Physical Disability. Shirley is an amputee sprinter.
At age 5, Shirley lost his left foot in a lawn mower accident. Later, a high school football accident caused the lower section of the same leg to be further amputated. Despite the unfortunate events, he maintained an interest in sports and succeeded in becoming a gifted high jumper.
With dreams of becoming an aviator, Shirley soon refocused his vision for the future as he began to receive calls about participating in the Paralympics.
“I never really understood what the Paralympics were,” he said in a September 10 KNPR Nevada Public Radio interview. “I wanted to fly.”
The recruiters knew there was something special about Shirley. In the 2000 Paralympic Games, he won the gold medal for the 100-meter dash, and the silver medal for the high jump. Four years later, he earned gold for the 100-meter dash, silver for the 200-meter dash, and bronze for the long jump. He also won medals at several International Paralympic Committee Athletics World Championships.
The 2008 Beijing Paralympics was a different story for Shirley, though. After making it through the preliminary heat for the 100-meter dash, he made his way on to the track for the finals. Halfway through the race, he tore his Achilles tendon and fell. But Shirley wanted to finish. Refusing help off the track, he made his way to the finish line and overcame his obstacle—an example of the theme of his life.
“Everybody has hurdles. Most are not visible, but when they are visible we make assumptions,” said Sheila Smith, Southern’s Disability Services Coordinator. “It’s not about physical disabilities, it’s about being who we’re supposed to be.”
Shirley has come a long way since his tumultuous childhood. He was abandoned by his drug-addicted mother, was rejected by his grandfather for being biracial, and was abused in a children’s home. It wasn’t until he was adopted that he felt support in any meaningful capacity.
Shirley will share his message of overcoming obstacles at the 11 a.m. convocation in the Iles P.E. Center. The event is open to the public. For more about Shirley, visit his Team USA page.