Losing a limb, gaining a dream

Ranjit Steiner had two legs, but only one was any good.

Bone cancer had crippled his right leg, ending his athletic career as a high school sophomore. By the time he was a freshman at the University of Oregon, Steiner had to rely on crutches and pain pills to get through each day.

“I couldn’t walk,” he said. “I sat at home playing video games.”

Finally, Steiner decided his life would be better off without the “dead weight” his right leg had become. So he told doctors he wanted them to cut it off.

“It was an easy choice,” said Steiner, now a junior at the UO studying journalism and advertising. “When I realized how hard my life was, I decided amputation was better for me. I wish I had done it sooner.”

Doctors at University of California, San Francisco, amputated Steiner’s right leg above the knee on June 14, 2010. Without the burden of a crippled leg, Steiner slowly began to revive his athletic career. First began the hard work of learning to walk with a prosthetic leg. This winter, he got a high-tech prosthetic leg with a carbon fiber running blade.

He's now working out with the sprinters in the UO Running Club, coached by Tom Heinonen, who coached women’s track and cross country for the UO for 28 years. Heinonen said he’s been impressed by Steiner and his willingness to work.

“He’s game,” he said. "He’s willing to try a lot. He’s got a buoyant personality.”

Steiner’s aim now is to compete in the Paralympics in the 100 and 200 meter races, as early as this summer in London. The Paralympics are an athletic competition for disabled athletes modeled on the Olympics.

Ranjit Steiner in the stands at Hayward Field.“I was always a track athlete in high school,” he said. “I always wanted to compete in track at the next level. That was one of the biggest reasons for the amputation. Now I’m back to who I was before the amputation.”

To qualify for the London games, he needs to run a time of 15.5 seconds in the 100 meters for an automatic qualification, and 16.25 seconds to make the secondary team. He’s run 18 flat at the end of a practice session, and feels confident that time will improve at track meets this spring.

He plans to attend a Paralympics training camp at the end of April, and compete at the Paralympic Trials in Indianapolis June 29-July 1.

Todd Schaffhauser, a Paralympian who conducts running clinics for amputees, has worked with Steiner and thinks he has a good chance to be a Paralympian.

“I think he’s got very good prospects,” he said. “He’s got the gene pool. He’s got the body type. … He showed me he’s got all the potential in the world to do this.”

— Tim Christie