Friday, January 28, 2011

Gold medal Paralympic high jumper fulfills dream to work as San Diego police officer

From The Press in New Zealand:

Criminals trying to evade the long arm of the law in San Diego stand little chance if chased by Paralympics gold medallist Jeff Skiba (pictured).

The United States high jumper, in Christchurch for the International Paralympic Committee Athletics World Championships, last year fulfilled his dream of becoming a police officer.

The 26-year-old world record-holder and defending world champion had his lower left leg amputated at 10 months after being born without a fibula. Having never known life on two legs, Skiba said, the disability did not hold him back.

"I was always competitive growing up. No matter what sport it was, I wanted to go out and do it, and do it really well," he said.

This included passing rigorous physical tests for the police force after his gold-medal performance at the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing.

"After Beijing, I decided I needed to get a career started because you can't do track and field forever. I had a friend who went into the police force, so I started looking into it," he said.

"It's something I wanted to do – be out there helping people and trying to make the world better."

The medical evaluation was "pretty extensive", Skiba said.

"Once they figured I could get around better than most of the other officers, they were really good about it. The physical test was pretty easy for me, being in good shape."

Skiba, who has worked on the beat for nine months, said he was the only amputee in the San Diego police.

His recruitment had been well-received by colleagues, he said.

"We wear long pants at work and officers I've been working with for months will see me changing, notice my leg, and be like, `I had no idea'."

In 2007, Skiba became the first Paralympian to compete at the able-bodied US indoor championships and, in 2008, the first to clear seven feet (2.15 metres), setting an unofficial world record.

His nine-year run as world champion ended with a bronze medal in Christchurch yesterday. Skiba's jump of 1.96m was well short of his personal best.

The title was won by Poland's Maciej Lepiato, who jumped 2.02m, with China's Hongjie Chen second.