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London Paralympic Games is reward for Brandon athlete who escaped downward spiral

TAMPA — The way David Prince figured, it was his last chance.

Prince was living in his mother's house in Georgia and even the bottom of the barrel looked a long way up. In 2002, Prince, a high school dropout, had recently lost his lower leg in a motorcycle accident.

Popping in and out of jail, he was addicted to drugs and fighting to stave off suicidal thoughts.

"My mom was going to call the sheriff and have me thrown out of the house," Prince said. "I was at rock bottom."

He convinced his mother, who had been a first-hand witness to Prince's destructive path, to give him another shot.

"I knew I had to make a change and show her, not just talk about it," Prince said. "She told me if I didn't (change), then she was washing her hands with me."

As it turns out, she used those hands to give him a second chance at life.

"She gave me a gym membership," he said. "And that's where this whole journey started."

Prince's next step in that journey will take place in London when the 28-year-old represents the U.S. track and field team Aug. 29-Sept. 9 at the 2012 Paralympic Summer Games. Prince, who has lived in the Brandon area for about two years, will run in the 400-meter race.

"From the day I got that gym membership," Prince said. "My addiction to working out replaced my addiction to drugs and the lifestyle I was living."

Prince had his motorcycle for all of five days when he decided to race another vehicle. He remembers looking down at the speedometer and seeing 160 miles per hour just prior to the crash.

"I hit a curb on a turn and flipped," he said. "I crashed into a guardrail and the lower part of my leg broke off right on the spot."

Prince said the person he was racing came back to the accident scene and used his belt to apply a tourniquet.

"I was bleeding out," he said. "He saved my life."

After spending five days in a medically induced coma, Prince found himself watching his life spiral out of control.

"I was totally immersed in the drug scene," he said. "I was down but getting into athletics gave me a purpose."

Prince began working out nearly every day, sometimes five hours at a clip.

"It consumed me like addiction to drugs did," he said.

Prince's new athletic regime eventually led him into triathlons, which soon led to sprinting. He began training with track legends Al Joyner and Joaquim Cruz, learning to transition from long-distance running to sprints.

"I had the endurance," he said. "I just had to learn how to maximize my energy in a short distance."

Prince, whose leg severed a few inches below the knee, worked with Tampa's Hanger Clinic to fit him with the perfect prosthetic.

"Because of the event he's running, we fit David with a more vertical device that has a smaller surface area than long distance runners would have," said Don Smith, a certified prosthetist who works with Prince. "Imagine more of a J shape than a C."

But just as Prince seemed to have things in order, adversity struck again in the form of another horrific injury in December. While playing on a trampoline with his son, Prince landed awkwardly and tore the ACL, PCL, the meniscus, hamstring and part of his LCL in the knee originally damaged in the motorcycle.

"I thought there was no possible way I could compete in London" Prince said.

But Prince said the troubles of his past help to conquer the obstacles of the present.

"I could definitely draw upon those experiences after the crash," he said. "And my wife kept pushing me. Eventually I began to realize it myself too."

Prince resumed training and finished second in the 400-meter trials, earning a spot on the team that will compete in London. When he gets to London, Prince will race against South Africa's Oscar Pistorius, who recently gained fame by running as a bilateral amputee in the Summer Olympics. Pistorius is the defending Paralympic champion in the 100, 200 and 400, but Prince has an interesting take on running next to the sudden star.

"More than likely I'll be running behind him than next to him," Prince joked. "But he's a good friend and a great athlete. A real inspiration to all of us."

Judging from his past, Prince has proven to be quite an inspiration himself.

Brandon Wright can be reached at hillsnews@tampbay.com.

London Paralympic Games is reward for Brandon athlete who escaped downward spiral 08/18/12 [Last modified: Saturday, August 18, 2012 4:31am]

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