GLEN DALE - The loud cheers from dozens of friends, family members and even perfect strangers who turned out to welcome 10-year-old Cooper Blair home to Glen Dale Friday evening served as a fitting tribute to all that he's overcome in his short life.
The soon-to-be fifth-grader at Our Lady of Peace School was returning from a cross-country trip that took him to Iowa and Oklahoma, where he competed in the annual Endeavor Games in Oklahoma City. According to his father, Zack, Cooper won three national championships for athletes under 14 years old.
At 23 months old, Cooper lost part of both legs to amniotic band syndrome, a condition that restricted blood flow to his limbs in the womb. His parents had to choose between letting their son keep his legs and confining him to a wheelchair for life, or having them amputated and allowing him to try to live as normal a life as possible with prosthetic legs.
Photo by Daniel Dorsch/Cooper Blair, 10, of Glen Dale, receives a hero’s welcome as he returns home Friday from competing in the Endeavor Games.
As he described meeting with scouts from the Paralympic Games already, Zack Blair expressed no regrets about the decision.
Ed Littell and his wife Carol of Glen Dale are family friends with the Blairs who were among those who showed up to give Cooper a hero's welcome.
"Glen Dale has a lot to be proud of," Ed Littell said. "I think he (Cooper) is great. A proud moment for Marshall County."
Carol Littell recalled Cooper's grandmother, Linda Blair, describing how his "cheetah legs" often show signs of wear because he uses them constantly.
"He didn't let it slow him down," Carol Littell said.
"We're amazed for the little fellow," Martins Ferry resident Delores Burge said. "I wish we all had that willpower."
Janie Husek of Shadyside said Cooper's unsinkable spirit and well-trained athletic skill promise him a bright future.
"They all want to train him because he's just got the gift," Husek said. "What a great kid."
As he stepped out and greeted his admirers, Cooper said he was not expecting such a big welcome and that it is good to be home.
"I liked just going out there and racing, getting to play with friends and coming home to the city of Glen Dale," Cooper said.
Linda Blair said the welcome was coordinated with the city of Glen Dale after she had asked if she could hang a sign near the "Home of Brad Paisley" sign at the southern end of town.
"It's amazing," she said as more supporters arrived. "For the last minute, it's just unreal."
"You've got to love living in a community like this," Zack Blair said. "Thank everybody for coming out, and for all the support."
Friday's welcome was followed immediately by a drive around Glen Dale guided by police and fire department vehicles.