Black Belt Hall-of-Famer kicks paralysis to the curb and inspires his community.
David Blair proudly owns the title of Sensei in Shotokan Karate. He trained in the Japan Karate Association’s famous Shotokan Dojo for five years in the 1960s, fought competitively for the United States for several years afterwards and today is a member of the Black Belt Hall of Fame. In short, his life has been marked by intense physical discipline and excellence.
This made his prognosis in 2007 — when he was paralyzed from the waist down after his body reacted negatively to a shot — a tough pill to swallow. The consensus was that he would never walk again, and many around him had doubts he would make it through the ordeal alive as his weight dwindled from 180 pounds walking into the hospital to just 120 pounds prior to leaving.
Blair was not trained to quit, however. “Blair has one of those rare personalities that bends, but does not break, under extreme pressure or pain,” says Matthew Griffin, fitness manager at 24 Hour Fitness Fontana Super Sport, which Blair regularly visits. “The man comes in consistently to the gym, always under extreme physical duress and [with] a smile that says everything is alright in the world.”
Griffin says Blair turned to 24 Hour Fitness three years ago after failing to make progress through physical therapy at his hospital. After starting out slowly, Blair began personal training with Oscar Meza, assistant fitness manager at the Fontana club. “When he met Oscar, [Blair] could barely walk 15 feet on his own,” Griffin says. “Oscar helped him tremendously to increase his walking distance and endurance while watching posture over time.”
Now 75 years old, Blair has become a favorite figure throughout the club, especially in group training classes. “I asked Blair if he wanted to try TC24 on a Monday, and he said he would give it a whirl. From that point on, he shows up with great diligence to participate in class,” Griffin says. Griffin often teaches Blair’s classes and says the two have formed a strong bond. “For Blair and I, we both share the mentality that we need to make the best of each day and try and treat everyone with respect.”
While Blair is a regular source of inspiration for both members and team members alike, he left a permanent impression on countless participants and onlookers when he walked the entire LA Music Run on April 23 with his walker. In his corner was Griffin and one of Blair’s best friends, Frank, who had to use a cane due to his own physical ailments.
Griffin says the walk didn’t come without its challenges. “Blair was exhausted at times, yet kept moving,” he says, adding that it took three hours to finish. “He fell flat on his face, and right after I picked him up he just kept moving and started to laugh about the situation. The challenge of walking that distance with his walker, along with Frank and his cane, only made them push harder to finish.”
Like age, Griffin says their finishing time was just a number. “I can honestly say that we enjoyed the journey of that 5K throughout the course of those three hours because we made it something more important than just a race,” he says. “We were the last to finish in terms of time, but in our hearts we walked away with a memory of love and respect.”
In May, Blair was already working to overshadow his own accomplishments. “Just yesterday, Blair walked without his walker, cane or any help from me or Oscar,” Griffin says, “and with his back straight and head held high with the pride and determination to never quit.”
David Blair’s Tips for Success
24Life asked David Blair his tips for accomplishing what seemed impossible. Here’s what he told us:
- You have to have a vision! I had a vision I was going to finish.
- You always have to have a smile on your face. Training has got to be fun.
- You have to cry and sweat while training.
- You should always have a professional trainer. Even when I was a Karate instructor, I would have someone watch or help.