Flying High with Marlon Shirley

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2005 ESPY - Best Male Athlete with a Disability

Across the room Marlon Shirley works the crowd like a pro. In conversation, he shifts his weight from side to side, glancing around the room, making it difficult to tell if he is into the discussion. However, with his quick wit, he proves he has been paying attention while he keeps an eye on what is going on around him. Upon meeting Shirley, it is easy to equate him with any other young athlete who exudes confidence bordering on arrogance. However, in talking with him, one can get under the layers of what makes him who he is, putting him in a class all by himself. His upbringing no doubt added to what comprises his cool and rough exterior, yet at the same time shaped his appreciation for where his life is taking him.

Common Threads

One could say that Shirley and Yeboah have much in common. As a child, Shirley was abandoned by his mother on the streets of Las Vegas, Nevada, where he suffered from poverty and abuse, winding his way in and out of orphanages. It was at one of these orphanages that Shirley lost his foot in a lawn mower accident. Several years later, he was adopted by a family in Utah. It was there that Shirley developed his tenacity and desire to accomplish whatever he was told he could never do.

Shirley, a member of Team Ossur, a Paralympic medalist in track and field, and often referred to as the world's fastest amputee sprinter, is no stranger to the spotlight. He has succeeded in capturing the attention of mainstream media and many accolades--not only because he is fast and can jump farther than any other amputee, but because he is an inspiration. He was the first amputee to break the 11-second barrier in the 100m event with a time of 10.97 seconds, and he intends to compete against world-class able-bodied sprinters by qualifying for the Grand Prix circuit in Europe. The track is the venue for Shirley's cause, where he hopes to build public awareness for the Paralympic Games, change perceptions, and increase opportunities for individuals with disabilities.

King of the Mountain

Reflecting on winning his second ESPY Award, Shirley humbly said, "I was really surprised that I won. I mean, I was nominated with two of the best, Paul Martin and Rudy Garcia-Tolson, who are absolutely amazing athletes on Team Ossur."

Being king of the mountain is hard to maintain. To stay on top, Shirley trains at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California, where coaches and fellow Olympic athletes do not cut him any slack. Giving credit to prosthetic technology, Shirley says he uses the Flex-Foot® Cheetah® prosthetic foot for his track and field activities, while he wears the Flex-Foot LP Vari-Flex® for his everyday activities. He has been quoted saying that while the advanced carbon technology contributes to his success, about 40 percent of his efforts are physical, while 60 percent are mental.

Keeping it Real

When asked if he was star-struck at the ESPY ceremony in Hollywood, Shirley commented, "I had met most of the professional athletes before. There are always lots of parties and everything, but the ESPY ceremonies fall in the middle of my season, so I did not attend all the social events due to my training schedule."

A rigorous daily training schedule isn't all that keeps Shirley busy. He also works the business side of sports, fulfilling endorsement agreements with companies outside of O&P such as Visa, McDonald's, The Home Depot, Oakley, and Gateway. He is often called upon to make appearances at events, to deliver motivational speeches, or to provide interviews and photo opportunities. But Shirley says his hectic schedule is all a means to an end: "For me to be able to obtain endorsements isn't about me; it helps show that athletes with disabilities are marketable and brings more recognition to our sports. I am simply using track and field to accomplish some things personally before I get on to what I will do for the rest of my life." Shirley is an avid pilot who loves aeronautical engineering, where he has some formal training and education. He hopes someday to fly for a commercial airline.

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