Overcoming
“When you tackle a challenge that you cannot even fathom tackling—when you accomplish that, the amount of integrity and the will and the heart that you'll get from that experience is what will set you up for your life.”

—Marlon Shirley


Marlon Shirley saw his fair share of struggles as a young boy, living with his mother who was gone a lot and moved frequently to keep trouble from catching up with her. Shirley was five years old when, living with other children on the streets of Las Vegas, he was picked up by social services. He was placed at an orphanage where he began the "pinball life of an institutional orphan.”

His life in the children’s home would literally leave a lasting mark. In 1984, the caretaker of the orphanage was letting the kids jump on and off a riding lawnmower while he mowed the lawn around the facility. Shirley slipped, and the lawnmower ran over his leg. Shirley later woke up with an amputation above the ankle, his foot gone forever.

Shirley bounced around to various foster homes over the years until he was adopted by a family from Utah in 1987. He took the Shirleys’ last name and feels blessed to have been found by them.

Shirley struggled through high school, trying to overcome the habits and tendencies of his past—of simply trying to survive. Midway through his senior year in 1997, close to flunking out and humiliated, Shirley decided he had had enough. Determined to do something with his life, he signed up to participate in the Simplot Games in Idaho, the largest open high school indoor track meet west of the Mississippi. He hoped to be offered a college scholarship, but the odds were against him. Shirley had little track experience. Moreover, he was hobbling on crutches, because he had fractured a bone in his leg while dunking a basketball a few weeks earlier.

Something in Shirley drove him to put all his effort into the track meet. He entered the high jump competition, where he hopped over on his good leg and dove headfirst over the bar. He cleared 6’6”, a height which would set a Paralympic world record. A month later, Shirley competed in the Disabled Sports USA track meet in California, where he left $13,000 richer. Later in high school he had more surgeries and a second, higher amputation to the same leg following a football injury.

Despite having an upbringing that might have broken many people, Shirley has not only found a way to prevail, but has found the drive to become a world-class athlete. He owns two world records, in the 100-meter dash and the long jump. In 2000, at the Paralympic Games in Sydney he won the 100m dash and took silver in the high jump. He was the first and only lower leg amputee to break the 11-second mark in the 100m dash, setting a time of 10.91 seconds in 2007.

At the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Marlon Shirley won the Paralympic 100-meter gold medal for the second time. He has been called “the world’s fastest amputee.”

Shirley said, "It's something I train for every single day. It's almost just like an automatic movement of my body springing down the track. We all have our own type of disabilities—mine just happens to be physical, and you can see it very easily when I run. But you can't tell it by the time I get done racing."

Shirley's prosthetic foot is made of carbon fiber titanium, materials developed in the aerospace industry. He has tested the limits of what a prosthetic foot can do—and the limits of the human spirit. Most importantly, Shirley never allowed his physical difference to limit his accomplishments.

"I remember running around on crutches just like I'd run around if I had another foot," he said. "I definitely never looked at myself any differently than anyone else."

That determination was tried in 2008, when he headed to the Beijing Paralympics following a year marred by knee infections and surgeries. He took to the track for the 100m finals, determined to defend his gold-medal title. But midway down the track, his Achilles tendon tore, and he fell to the ground in agony. Refusing to leave the race uncompleted, Shirley rose and finished the race, crossing the finish line to the roar of a cheering crowd, standing unified in recognition of Shirley as an astonishing champion.

Today, as a 10-time World Champion and Paralympic champion, Shirley is a spokesperson for the Paralympic Movement and other sponsors. He is also a motivational speaker, bringing to others his inspirational message that there is nothing we cannot achieve—provided we have the determination and the belief in ourselves to overcome our challenges.

Overcoming. Pass It On!

This billboard about Overcoming features Marlon Shirley; athlete, Paralympic Champion.

Download Backstory PDF

Pass It On®

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Your Comments
Anonymous NOVEMBER 16, 2020
I loved it

annaliese OCTOBER 21, 2020
omg this is so sad i feel so bad.

patmyhini from ohmydoll APRIL 28, 2020
oh my gosh that was very inspiring and t changed my life

pogo stick from nowhere APRIL 28, 2020
very inspiring

Jasmin Riley from Rensselaer, Ny JANUARY 29, 2020
You inspire me soo much!!😇

Jimmy from Sudbury,Ontario Canada JANUARY 16, 2020
I like running

Anonymous SEPTEMBER 4, 2018
keep it up

tadalafil generic APRIL 27, 2018
Truly all kinds of helpful advice.

Marlon Shirley APRIL 19, 2018
I love reading the comments!!!! Keep it up!!!

Anonymous MARCH 28, 2018
He will inspire me to do better

Marlon Shirley from paralympics MARCH 6, 2018
Wow thanks guys I will keep it up as you say I have read every comment. Thanks for all the support!!!!

MatthewCix MARCH 4, 2018
It is a great post. This website has lots of useful things, it really helped me in many ways.

NancyDuaMs AUGUST 16, 2017
Good afternoon let's get together I want you to Bang me in an adult my nickname (Bella67) Copy the link and go to me... bit.ly/2fKf1re 8174984099934

Liam from wredling middle school MAY 4, 2016
I wish you the best of luck

Jason from Mn OCTOBER 27, 2015
Keep running don't give up.

mary from killeen texas SEPTEMBER 11, 2015
this is really interesting i wanna no more i feal for u ok

Casey from North belton middle school SEPTEMBER 10, 2015
Have a great competition

Aidin from Angola APRIL 17, 2014
He lost his leg but he still runs by believing in himself.

Dom Monchek from Warrington,PA JANUARY 2, 2014
So inspirational! Overall, brought a tear to my eye.

Cadee from Grand Rapids MARCH 26, 2013
That is so AWESOME!

troll from under the bridge MARCH 25, 2013
I think Marlon Shirley is very courageous to continue running after an accident like that.

Ethan H from Wisconsin JANUARY 8, 2013
No matter how different you are you can accomplish it.

Teresa from California APRIL 22, 2011
I do believe this is the same guy that I lived with in the childrens home where he had the lawnmower accident when he was little. So glad to see him overcome obstacles! Way to go Marlon!

La Donna from Fairfield, Ca APRIL 20, 2011
Go Marlon, You are an inspiration to all with or without limbs. Your story inspired me tonight as I watched on the news. It lets me know to keep the spirit and that anything is possible!!!!!

Traveon from USA MARCH 14, 2011
I feel really sorry.

Judy B. from Columbia, MD NOVEMBER 13, 2010
I also have an amputation and when I saw Marlon Shirley it made me feel like I was still 100%. Please send me a copy of the poster. Thanks

Mel Celiz from Philippines JUNE 6, 2010
I have a poster of Marlon Shirley. I saw the website in the poster and I searched for it. I like to see the real story of Marlon Shirley. It makes me inspired in my life. Although he has only one leg, his heart is full of life.

Angelina R from Meriden, Connecticut, USA MARCH 3, 2010
I see these billboards when I'm driving all the time. I feel very inspired every time I do.

VERONICA N. from VENTURA, CA FEBRUARY 18, 2010
HANDS DOWN TO YOU MARLIN SHIRLEY. VERY INSPIRING AND MOVING. YOU ARE A GREAT EXAMPLE OF NEVER GIVING UP NO MATTER WHAT. -VERO13

JEFF C. from Jiangsu, China FEBRUARY 7, 2010
生活永远只属于坚强的人 (Google translation: Life will forever be part of a strong man.)

PABLO M. from NORTH CAROLINA NOVEMBER 11, 2009
MARLON SHIRLEY; YOU ARE MY HERO. YOU SHOWED ME TO NEVER GIVE UP AND TO GIVE YOUR BEST ON EVERYTHING IN YOUR LIFE.

Shaunie O. from Utah OCTOBER 16, 2009
Marlon, I so saw you at Bear River Bowl. You are my hero. You never gave up and weren't going to let anything take your dreams away from you! I love it!

L.S. from Oregon MAY 19, 2009
Marlon's story is very moving and inspirational. How he can overcome his past and his disability is something we should all learn from.

Kelsa N. from Oregon MAY 19, 2009
I do the high jump in high school and this is a total inspiration. I'm a freshman girl, 14, and my pr. is only 5'ft. If a guy with not a full leg can do it then I think I could too. This story is amazing.

Josue M. from Jefferson City MAY 19, 2009
Marlon Shirley didn't have parents and lost his leg from an accident. He work hard and ran track. I think Marlon person with extraordinary talent

Danny A. from Sparta MAY 18, 2009
Working hard, looking at the positive side of things and learning from your experiences- you will overcome.

Edwin M. from MIAMI , FLORIDA APRIL 14, 2009
Hey I'm sorry that happened to you but I see it as a good thing also you met some really nice people from that and you WILL get through this. I had a similar experience and know how it feels. Anything is possible if you believe in yourself. GOOD JOB AND GOOD LUCK!!!!!!!!!

Edwin M. from MIAMI , FLORIDA APRIL 14, 2009
I'm happy Marlon got up and ran. YOU ROCK DUDE!!!!!!!!!!

Jeff & Tisa from New Jersey APRIL 1, 2009
We just met Marlon in Las Vegas and it was a total pleasure. What an awesome inspiring person. Thanks for telling us your story first hand Marlon, we are lucky to have met you!

Elizabeth W. from Canada, ON MARCH 24, 2009
That is cool how he can still RUN!! He like a hero... WITH SUPPER POWERS!

Hector V from New York City JULY 22, 2008
I have no words to express my admiration for his strength. Thank You for showing us examples like this.

A.B. from Wisconsin, USA NOVEMBER 9, 2007
I know a 13 year old boy who just had a leg amputation. This sign was printed off and hung in his hospital room. I truly believe this sign has been very inspirational for him as he is an athlete. It's amazing how signs such as these can touch someones heart in such powerful ways.

R.C. from Charlotte, North Carolina USA OCTOBER 19, 2007
I have been recently laid off from my job. I was feeling a little down about my circumstances. Then I came across this billboard of Marlon in Charlotte, NC. I immediately found this website and downloaded the picture in my phone. It is now the screen saver on my cell phone. Everyday I look at it and it gives me hope. This billboard touched me because it let me know that I could choose to be sad and depressed OR I could choose get off my butt and take back my life. Well as of yet I do not have another job HOWEVER I know that I shall OVERCOME.

Miranda N. from Burnt Hills, New York USA OCTOBER 4, 2007
Marlon, You are an amazing person with extrodinary talent. You Rock!

Elsa B. from Madison, Wisconsin USA AUGUST 22, 2007
I noticed the For a Better Life posters several years ago when living in New York City. I was moved and when I became a teacher thought that the posters and message would be great for students. My room is now covered with For a Better Life posters. The messages are powerful and inspirational. I am thrilled to share them with my students ever day.

Bob B. from Mexico JUNE 4, 2007
this has inspired me

S.E. MAY 18, 2007
Sweet!

Cathy D.M. from Atlanta, Georgia APRIL 24, 2007
Inspirational for our Special Olympics... Cathy

Anonymous MARCH 20, 2007
Wow, that is amazing. That shows incredible will and a very positive attitude. Your dad and Marlon (on this billboard) are great examples. How many of us complain, without such loss! Another inspiration is Heather Mills. She is currently on Dancing with the Stars, competing with an artificial limb. Honestly, I was choked up when I saw her go for it last night. Wonderful composure and resilience, I thought. She is a good example beyond this accomplishment as well--as she does a lot of charity work (Adopt-a-Minefield, and animal rights activism.) To your dad, Marlon, and Heather--way to go!

Anonymous MARCH 20, 2007
My father, at 83 developed an infection in his leg while WINDSURFING! He was forced to lose his leg above the knee. Not once does he complain about what he now cannot do. He only looks forward to his new possibilities. This billboard confirmed his inspiration and motivation. I saw it at Kennedy airport. Thank you!

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