Oscar Pistorius spins in a circle most mornings. It’s part of his campaign to make sure he runs in the London Olympics. Spinning in a circle takes dedication. Pistorius does it while drinking a vegetable shake he says “tastes like mud”.
“I drink a vegetable shake in the morning before I train,” said Pistorius at a function at the University of Pretoria athletics track for sponsor Oakley this week. “It’s like mud, but it seems to make it easier to drink if I turn around in circles while I drink it.”
Pistorius also drinks fruit shakes, which one must assume, are more pleasant than beetroot, celery and other root vegetables on the diet that Pistorius has been following strictly for the last few years. He doesn’t eat much meat or fish, and with his housemate goes through “tons of nuts” and natural oils. It’s helped him shed weight and body fat. His fighting – running – weight now hovers around 71kg, but his coach has been forcing him to get a little chunkier ahead of the most important time of his career.
Ampie Louw, Pistorius’s coach and the man who introduced him to track and field, is also on a diet. He has lost 7kg, which is a little less than Pistorius has shed. Louw decided he was looking a little “dik” and is looking after himself these days. Still, he’d like Pistorius to pack on a few kilograms.
“He’s in the best shape of his life, but he will put on a few pounds now so that we have something to burn off,” said Louw. “You can’t run on empty and with all the training we are doing Oscar will need to have some reserves.”
Pistorius’s dedication over the past few years has become almost missionary in its zeal. At the Oakley launch last week I offered him a fruit juice, which he turned down in favour of water. “I’m on the diet,” he smiled. “My diet’s terrible. I don’t believe in eating carbs and have tried to stay away from them for the last couple of years, which makes energy production challenging. We eat a lot of natural fats and oils, and we eat a lot of nuts and seeds. My housemate and I eat about 8kg of seeds and nuts a week. I’ve tried to stay away from meat and eat chicken and raw fish.” I have experienced that diet. Last year he served me lunch at his house in Pretoria.
We ate organic chicken soup with extra chickpeas and some parmesan cheese, with one slice of wholewheat bread. And that was it.
The weight loss is the secret to Pistorius’s success, but it is just a part of the upward path that has taken him to within one good run of qualifying for the London Olympics. Less weight means a quicker runner, but it also comes with a mindshift towards his craft. He trains twice a day, has given up riding motorbikes (“It’s not really responsible at this time of my career, but I will go back to it.”) and is currently very, very single. “I just don’t have the time,” he smiled.
It is not the life of a monk, but it is the life of a man who realises he is on the cusp of doing something special, and that greatness demands sacrifice and hunger. The most famous disabled athlete in the world has cut down his media commitments, and yet is a sponsor’s dream. He is sponsored, among others, by Nike and Oakley, and at the launch of the latter’s new Radarlock sunglasses, he told guests to “please take a seat. I’m going to talk for a long time”.
He spoke of his upbringing, how his brother once used his prosthesis as a brake on his go-kart when they hammered down a hill. He quoted his mother, in whose memory he lives and runs. He recalled the Beijing Paralympics, where he was the king of the track and the star of the Games. Pistorius had had a run-in with the Paralympic team management there when he complained about the team kit. He stood up for the other athletes, complaining that Sascoc management had sat in business class while amputee athletes, who need longer chairs in order to avoid blisters from chafing on their legs, were made to sit in economy.
He also stood up for his sponsor, Oakley, when he was told to run with a rival company. Loyalty and inner strength is something that Pistorius is not short of. The veggie shake, though, pushes him to the limits.
“The shake is the worst thing in the world, it’s just awful,” said Pistorius. “Chugging it down while turning round in circles seems to make it go down easier, so I’ll keep on doing that.”
He’ll also keep running in circles – 400-metre circles, around a track, as fast as he can. London awaits.