This film was watched as a part of the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF). Abled had its World Premier at the festival and is currently on the virtual fest. See an interview with the director and star of Abled, here!
Without a doubt, one of the sports I do the worst at is running. Whether it is sprinting, or cross-country. I don’t have what people call endurance, and I am built like a train. [Editor’s Note: Actually, three years in a row I won the 6th grade teacher 40m sprint due to competitive nature and other lazy teachers.] So in reality, that does mean I am less interested in watching people run as well. When my oldest did cross country, I was stoked he wanted to run, but also knew how unexciting watching those meets could be.
This leads me to this documentary. Originally, I was going to skip it. How exciting could a documentary about running for the Olympics be? People go fast, less than a minute of competition. Sometimes they dance before they go? But that is the main Olympic stories I remember. However, I am glad I ended up checking out Abled, for quite a few reasons.
The first reason, is that Blake Leeper, the star of the documentary, is a delightful person, full of passion and perseverance. Now for those not sure on what this is about, Blake is a Paralympian runner, with 8 Medals to his name, over various games. He was born with no legs below his knees, and it wasn’t looking good. But he learned to walk and eventually, learned to run. And he became more passionate about his running when they developed blades so that the running is more natural. And damn, did he take to them.
This is how I look after I have to run any amount of time.
However, it turns out, that not everyone is stoked about Blake’s success.
You see, he was seen as being too fast. Blake wanted to run for the Olympics. Not the Paralympics. The “regular” Olympics. After all, Oscar Pistorius did it in 2012. (Oh fun fact, check out his Wikipedia. Things sure did go south for him after those games). And even though Oscar was allowed to compete, Blake was not. Because Blake got a really good run, under 45 seconds, in a trial run, for the first time in his life. And now, apparently, his lack of natural legs gave him an advantage, and the Olympic committee said they needed to science and research to prove that these legs did not give him an advantage overall. And they were going to make Blake prove it.
This documentary is about Blake’s fight to compete, to prove that the legs inherently did not make him faster. It goes through their trials and tests, and quite honestly, really obvious reasons to prove that they aren’t something that give him a (this is intentional) leg up on the competition. And yet, it seems no matter what they do, he gets denied. And public opinion is also divided, because as we know, people have opinions without facts and research to back it up.
But besides all of that. This is a story of a man, at a disadvantage in a sport, succeeding despite the metaphorical hurdles in his path. It is a story about an exceptional athlete, with a positive attitude, fighting for his rights to compete for his country and for his family. And it is a powerful story, and one that really questions how we label disabilities and how welcome we are to those with these struggles into society.
Abled is a great documentary of a true story, with a fight that is never finished. And it is worth time watching.
3 out of 4.