World's fastest amputee wants to set positive example

Jerome Singleton runs a practice sprint at Gallaudet University on June 5th before his "Face to Face" interview with Bill Plante.

(CBS News) When the Paralympics Games trials start at the end of the month, one athlete there will be hard to catch, literally.

"My name is Jerome Singleton, Jr., the fastest amputee in the world," he told CBS News's Bill Plante. "T-H-E fastest amputee in the world," if you missed it the first time.

Singleton won the world championships in the 100-meter dash earlier this year, running it in just over 11 seconds in New Zealand. He hopes to take gold in the Paralympic Games in August in London.

"I call it the pursuit of speed. I want to race in the 100-meter, the 200-meter and anchor the 4-by-100-meter relay," he told Plante in an interview for Face to Face.

Singleton, 25, is not only a relatively new competitive track star, but also he only recently realized he was "disabled," even though he was born without a bone in his leg and had his lower right leg amputated when he was just 18 months old.

"I actually didn't realize I was disabled until I was about 18 or 19 when I could actually cut the lines at amusement parks," he told Plante. "When I got into college, that's when I found out about disability sport. I was a big time football player, one of the top 100 prospects coming out South Carolina, that's pretty good for a guy with one leg. But in college, studying math and physics at Morehouse college, I came across some running and walking legs and by doing that I came across Paralympics. I went to Paralympics-dot-org and next thing I know, I'm a Paralympian. Out there, training for a couple of years," he said.

He played strong safety in high school football, for those who are curious.

Singleton said many of the athletes he competed against didn't know he was any different, either. "They didn't treat me any differently, what I did was wear long socks all the time. A lot times when I ran track, I was actually hurdler in one of my walking legs, so I wore long tights. It was hot or cold, I still wore long tights. If I'm going to compete, I want you to try your best because If I win, I want it to mean something, just like if you beat me, I went 110 percent," he said.

On the track you can only see Singleton's speed, but his academic record is just as impressive.

"I went to school on a full ride scholarship for academics, not for athletics. Athletics came later in life and I've had a chance to really succeed in it. Like I said, I was a triple major in mathematics and applied physics at Morehouse college and then went to the University of Michigan and did industrial operations engineering and while being there, I did internships. I've interned at NASA's Glenn Research Center, I've interned at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, and I've interned at Park City Mathematics Institute, the Institute of Advanced Studies through Princeton University," he said. "I've just been blessed man and at the end of the day, I'm just thankful for all the people who've played a role in my being successful. And you know I can actually talk on both sides, I love sports but I also love academics," he added.

While he's on the track, Singleton is happy to be a role model.

"People say that I'm an inspiration. Like the blessing is, in a short period of time you can see me go out there and run and say 'I want to change the way I look at life, I want to change my perception on life. If he can do it, I can do better.'"

But beyond the track, he hopes to change the way most people look at the disabled.

"Whenever you look at somebody look at their abilities, not their disabilities. When it comes to life, I've learned to live it in a way that can be viewed two ways. Either an example or a warning. So we can watch the news every night and look at warnings of what we shouldn't do, or we need to look at ourselves and try to become examples for that next generation," he said.

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    Robert Hendin is senior producer for "Face the Nation" and a CBS News senior political producer.