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Blindness doesn't deter Paralympian Brown

Blindness doesn't deter Paralympian Brown

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Learning to sprint a straight line was a leap of faith for David Brown.

He lost his left eye when he was 3, and vision in his right eye began waning at 6, eventually to disappear altogether by the time he was 13.

Speed, however, was a commodity Brown had in excess, and it was only getting more impressive with age.

At the Missouri School for the Blind, he was taught to hold a wire with his left hand, pump with the right and let the line lead him down the track. That was how he learned to sprint in darkness.

“The biggest fear factor is not knowing where you’re going,” Brown said. “With the wire, you can run as fast as you can not having to worry about bumping into something.”

The fear is long gone, and Brown, who lived for 10 years in St. Louis to attend school, is the world’s fastest totally blind sprinter — with a record time of 10.92 seconds in the 100 meters, an event in which he will run at the Paralympics in August in Tokyo.

Brown won gold in the 100 in Brazil in 2016, is a two-time world champion and will be attending his third Paralympics in the T-11 classification for the most severely sight impaired.

He hopes to duplicate his 2016 feat but will have to do so running with a new guide, who runs alongside the athlete while tethered at the hands. Brown started training with Moray Steward two months ago after his longtime partner was injured. After less than two months together, they won at the Paralympic trials.

Steward now is Brown’s wire — his eyes, if you will.

“When he came on board, I was able to communicate what I need as far as guiding goes,” Brown said. “The guide has to adjust to me. It is a difficult thing. There is some adjustment on my part, but it shouldn’t be major.”

Steward never had heard of the Paralympics when his coach at a San Diego community college mentioned the possibility of guiding for Brown. In fact, he had done little travel and never had been on a plane.

They joined forces and before long had clicked. They have traveled to two meets, and Steward is awaiting a passport with the expectation that he will guide Brown in Tokyo.

“I never thought that a blind athlete could run a 10.9,” Steward said. “I have some fast friends, and I’m telling them, ‘This dude will beat you.’ It’s crazy. David has perfected his craft of running straight.”

Brown was diagnosed with Kawasaki disease when he was 15 months old. Thus began the downward spiral of his eye health. He adapted to having one eye and then went through a long process of losing his sight altogether.

As the years advanced, Brown did what he could to imprint photos in his brain of what everything around him looked like.

“It was a frustrating time,” he said. “I tried to do everything I could to learn to navigate and learn how to cope with blindness. I was in denial a long time that I was even going blind. But the older I got the more I embraced it and the better I got. If this can’t be reversed, I thought about what I could do to make something happen.”

He would challenge kids to races on the playground and win. When he was 11 and started at the Missouri School for the Blind, he tried several sports and found out he could do track and compete against other schools.

After graduating, he gravitated to Paralympic-type events. He was paired with veteran guide runner Jerome Avery, and they were running partners for seven years. They ran in sync, appearing as one runner as their strides matched perfectly.

Avery was slightly taller than Brown, but they adjusted. Steward is shorter, creating new issues that had to be overcome quickly.

“We met the first time and did some jogging, and I was learning how to adapt to it quickly,” Steward said “It was easier than I thought it would be. We had to get the rhythm of the motions of the hands. I caught on quick.”

They began working at the Olympic training center in Chula Vista, California. Brown concurred that the transition went smoother than he expected. In their first meet together, Brown ran 11.25. At the trials, he ran 11.38.

Steward said they bumped leaving the blocks, so he has watched the video repeatedly to see what happened. He said it’s possible Brown’s blocks were set up slightly askew, causing him to start sideways.

Steward also had to learn the communication role of a guide, who must provide spoken cues for the runner as they traverse the 100 meters. It starts with “drive, drive, drive” and then “accelerate, maintain, 20, 5, lean.”

At that point, Brown usually is the winner. And he has that picture imprinted permanently in his mind.

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