Left to right: Tony Volpentest, Ross Perot, Bryan Hoddle, Larry Weber
My wife Julie and I owned a small company called Physically Able Sports back in the 1990's. To summarize our mission, we worked with five of the top Paralympic Track athletes in the world from 1995-2000 as sports agents and advocates for the Paralympic Community. Our goal was to break down long-standing barriers that stood in the way of Paralympic Athletes becoming full-time professional athletes.
We were the first company to represent Paralympic Athletes exclusively. Our job, as mentioned above, was to help Paralympic athletes become professional athletes, just like all other sports. We were involved in many barrier-breaking events and moments for Paralympic athletes on the world stage.
Mr. Ross Perot sponsored one of our athletes, Tony Volpentest, the fastest disabled athlete in the world. Tony won gold medals in the 100 and 200 meters in the Atlanta Paralympic Games. Bryan Hoddle coached Tony to two gold medals and a world record in the Paralympic Games.
I later coached Tony to a gold medal and all-time world best in the 200 meters at the world Paralympic championships after his coach and my good friend Bryan Hoddle moved on to other pursuits.
Many people probably don't know who Ross Perot is today. Mr. Perot was a billionaire who ran for President of the United States back in 1996. I got to know Mr. Perot during those years and worked with him on several projects simultaneously while running for President. He did a lot of work for veterans behind the scenes as well during those days. Mr. Perot died in 2019 at the age of 89.
Most people will never know how much Mr. Perot admired and fought for active duty and military veterans. I admired what he did for veterans behind the scenes. Mr. Perot never sought credit for the fantastic work he did for veterans.
I considered Mr. Perot a mentor in some business areas and understanding the political arena even though we differed on some political issues. Mr. Perot was amiable and kind to us during the time we worked with him.
When Mr. Perot would call me at our home on business, Julie would say, "you answer it." She was a bit in awe of the man at the time. However, he indeed was like the guy next door. He was easy to talk to, had a great sense of humor, and was very humble. He carried around a 20-year-old briefcase even though he certainly could afford a lot more at the time.
Marlon Shirley, another Paralympic athlete, lived with us in Lacey for about six months while establishing himself in his career within the Paralympic movement. Our daughter Elizabeth grew up around Marlon. Elizabeth thought having just one foot was normal! Elizabeth would put Marlon's prosthetic leg on for fun. Marlon would just laugh!
Marlon was the first disabled athlete in history to break 11.00 for 100 meters. He won gold medals and set world records in the games, and high jumped well over six feet off of one good foot!
Julie was outstanding in navigating with CBS, CNN, and other world media to promote the Paralympic movement on the business side of things. We had a fantastic team that was committed to breaking down long-established barriers.
We also set up the one-to-one challenge between Neil Fuller and Tony Volpentest in Toronto, Canada, through our business, Physically Able Sports. The one-to-one challenge was the first event of its kind in the world.
Tony and Neil were the undercard event for Michael Johnson. Michael Johnson was the Olympic Champion and world record holder in the 400 meters and 200 meters, and Donavan Bailey was the 100 meters Olympic Champion. They raced at 150 meters to determine the fastest non-disabled runner in the world. Tony out leaned Neil Fuller from Australia at the line. The crowd exploded in appreciation of a great race.
Michael Johnson pulled a muscle that day and did not finish the race against Donavan Bailey. The crowd came to see Johnson and Bailey race that day but left in awe of Tony and Neil in many ways.
There are many more barrier-breaking moments that happened during our tenure in the Paralympic movement. I will share them sometime in my blog.
What I remember most about our Paralympic days was how hard it was to get sponsorships for Paralympic Athletes. By the grace of God, we were blessed to help break down many long-standing barriers that stood in the way of Paralympic athletes securing sponsorships as professional athletes. I looked back on that period and can only give thanks to the Lord for opening so many doors. And, it was a blessing to meet so many wonderful people during that era.
StarMentors is currently making a movie about Tony Volpentest's life story. You can learn more about their film here:
You can also see Tony's gold medal run and world record here:
Ross Perot and Larry Weber speaking at a press conference in Atlanta