Prince, 29, earned the trip to the White House on Friday as part of the celebrations of the 2012 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams. He said President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and first lady Michelle Obama stayed outside until they greeted every athlete.
“I’m not a big fan, but you’ve got to give them credit where credit is due,” Prince said in a phone conversation while he waited for his plane from Washington Friday afternoon.
Prince earned the bronze in a high-profile 400-meter race that was won by Oscar Pistorius, the South African “Blade Runner” who weeks earlier became the first double amputee to compete in the Olympic Games on the same London Olympic Stadium track. Prince’s success came nine months after undergoing surgery to repair his knee after tearing it up while playing with his stepson at an indoor trampoline park.
“That’s what has just blown us away,” said his mother, Connie Prince, who still lives in Powder Springs. “The doctor came out and told us he may run again, but he’ll never compete again. David is one of those bull-headed people who is never gonna hear the word ‘no.’ ”
But for David Prince, coming back from adversity is nothing new. He faced difficulties for years after he was introduced to drugs after moving to Powder Springs from Mexico, where his parents had been missionaries.
Prince’s accident a decade ago, in which he crashed his Yamaha motorcycle after driving 145 mph on Barrett Parkway near Stilesboro Road, and subsequent jail time, were the culmination of his troubles. Earlier, he had dropped out of McEachern High School and devoted his time to using or selling drugs.
“After I lost a leg, it took about a year and a half before I realized I had been doing the wrong thing,” he said.
But in 2003, at age 19, Prince enrolled at Chapel Hill High School in Douglasville, where he improved his grades from barely passing to A’s and B’s. In 2004, he asked God for forgiveness, joining Mount Harmony Baptist Church in Mableton. He said he was able to replace his addictions to drugs and alcohol with addictions to physical activities.
Prince, who dove at McEachern, began exercising. Though he had natural athletic ability, his traditional prosthetic leg slowed him down. He was able to get a new leg from Hanger Prosthetics & Orthotics, who was looking for athletes to participate in the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing. With experience in a number of triathlons already under his belt, he began to train.
Prince set a goal of making it to China, but narrowly missed qualifying in the high jump. For a while, he thought of giving up.
“I quit doing track and field and quit training and was focusing more on work,” Prince said.
But he decided to give it another try at the 2009 Mt. SAC Relays in California. Prince ended up winning the 100 meter dash. That qualified him for a meet in Manchester, England. He decided to run in the 400 meters when a lane was open and set his personal best time by four seconds.
That led to an invitation to train at the U.S. Olympic training center in Chula Vista, Calif. Prince continued to improve in both the 200 and 400 meters. He met a young woman back in Georgia, which meant he made regular trips to visit her. The couple decided to elope and get married in Tennessee when he was back in the area for his brother’s wedding.
In 2010, Prince moved back to Georgia to be with his wife, Jessie Page. He spent his time coaching the Somerset Sharks swim team in east Cobb. But his wife was promoted and transferred as part of her job, so in August 2010, the Princes moved to Brandon, Fla., near Tampa.
Prince trained at the University of South Florida, while working at a YMCA. At the 2011 World Championships, Prince took home a bronze medal in the 400 meters, as well as a silver as part of the four-by-100 relay team.
After breaking Parapan American Games records in the 200 and 400 meters in Guadalajara, Mexico, in November 2011, Prince appeared ready for the Paralympics, which are always held in the Summer Olympic city shortly after the games. He returned to Florida to take a week off.
“I was pretty much on top of everything,” he said.
But on his trip home, Prince had the trampoline accident, in which he landed sideways on his prosthetic, which is located just below the knee. He tore several knee ligaments including the anterior cruciate ligament.
“I was not thinking I would have a chance at London, but everything got put together,” he said.
Prince credits the work of his doctor, as well as hyperbaric therapy, in which he slept in a chamber that allowed him to breathe almost all oxygen, with his speedy recovery. He also spent time swimming.
“It culminated through the perfect storm of getting everything repaired and back to normal,” he said.
Finally, he was able to focus on training for London. He recovered in time for the U.S. Paralympics Track & Field Trials in June in Indianapolis, where he made the team in the 400.
In London, the race came down to the last 100 meters.
“This is what I trained so hard the last couple months for,” Prince recalls thinking. “I gave it to God and asked him to help me not be afraid, and allow me to go balls to the wall.”
While Prince’s time of 50.61 seconds was behind Pistorius’s gold-medal time of 46.68 seconds, Prince did set a world record for runners in his class for single-leg amputees.
“I had my hands on my head,” he said. “I asked, ‘Did I really just run that?’ ”
Prince said runners like his friend Pistorius, who are missing parts of both legs, actually have an advantage.
“A bilateral runner will fatigue, but he will never fatigue past a point where their limbs aren’t actually working,” Prince said.
Prince said officials are considering separate races for single-and-double amputees at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, which he feels could open the door for a gold medal. Prince is already planning on running in Brazil, and he might also try to make the team in swimming, where he feels he can be competitive in the 50-meter freestyle.
“I actually prefer swim training,” he said.
Prince said he is often amazed at the turnaround he has made in his life, with successes in track and a beautiful wife. He would like to someday own his own marketing business.
In 2001, after his parents divorced, David Prince moved in with his mother. But after four months, she had him evicted from her home. After greeting him after the race in London, that seemed like a lifetime ago.
“It was very emotional,” Connie Prince said. “We just cried until we couldn’t cry anymore.”