When reigning 100-meter Paralympic gold medalist David Brown in the T11 category totally blind and the event’s world record holder with 10.92 seconds, recalls a lost year of competition caused by COVID-19, he focuses on all that won. .
Unable to access his home base, the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center outside of San Diego, Brown found a “comfortable state” in simpler exercises: jumping rope, taking long walks, and doing “like 2,000 abdominal exercises in a day. ” He bought an Apple Watch to monitor his calorie count and eliminate gluten and dairy. “It discourages a lot of people when I say this,” adds Brown, “but I was able to figure out how I could run on my own. And not just by myself: I have learned to run straight. “
In past competitions, this task has fallen to Jerome Avery, his full-throat, full-sight guide runner who must keep Brown from leaving his lane (disqualification) or crossing the finish line behind Avery (ditto). A former top 15 finalist in the US Olympic Trials who took a turn to help the blind athletes on Team USA After failing to make the national team in 2004, 42-year-old Avery , it does so via two booming commands:Twenty meters in! Ten to go! Bend down!And subtle contact, pushing Brown away, or pulling his 12-inch rubber strap, which is attached to Brown’s left hand and Avery’s right, to bring him closer.
The result is a high-speed act of harmony unique to sports, each arm movement and stride reflected as the pair puff down the track. “Two people come as one,” says Brown. But 12 inches is less than six feet, of course, and when the social distancing began, Brown and Avery – or, to use their self-proclaimed nickname, Team BrAvery – spent about five months apart.
Avery used the free time to focus on off-track activities in the San Diego area, working at a base for athletes with limited vision and adopting a Cane Corso puppy. Brown didn’t want such a break; When the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games were postponed, he recalls, his first thought was, “What time is practice?” He then started running races in a park in Chula Vista while his fiancee, Rebekah Hill, or later, once the COVID-19 restrictions were eased, his trainer, Joaquim Cruz, stood at the end of the track and clapped. “I had to perfect the sound,” says Brown. “That helped me learn, one, where they are. And then how must my body feel to keep me in that direction? “
On a hot morning in early June, at the far end of an athletic complex in Chula Vista, a hive of elite athlete activity: a runner trying out new leaf prostheses, a thrower throwing javelins from his wheelchair, Brown is vomiting. However, he didn’t eat breakfast before this hour-long sprint workout, so only water comes out when he ducks through the bushes during his third cooldown lap. “It happens,” Brown shrugs. “We just get up like it’s nothing.”
Being diagnosed with Kawasaki disease at 15 months and blind in both eyes at 13 years of age due to the resulting glaucoma, Brown took the course shortly after moving from Kansas City, Missouri, with his family to enroll in the School for the Blind. from Missouri in
St. Louis in 2004. But it wasn’t until he won a writing contest to attend the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games that Brown started thinking big. “My vision,” he wrote, “is to be a part of the Paralympic Games.”
These goals were reinforced at the National Stadium in Beijing, where Brown, then wearing glasses but barely able to make out the motes moving on the track, glimpsed American sprinter Josiah Jamison winning the 100 meters in the T12 category (very low visual acuity and / or null). perception of light). Jamison’s Guide: None other than Avery.
Two years later, in 2010, Brown went to Philadelphia to compete in the prestigious Penn Relays. There, his assigned partner turned out to be a familiar figure. “We hit it off right away,” says Avery. After a lackluster run, they went their separate ways only to meet four years later, in Chula Vista, when Brown was looking for a new guide and Cruz paired him up with Avery for a couple of workouts. In his first race back together, Brown PR’ed, and later in ’14 he became the first T11 sprinter to break 11 seconds in the 100 meters.
Over time, each runner has adapted more to the other. For Avery, this has meant shortening his stride to better reflect Brown’s speedy, fast-paced style. Brown, meanwhile, was happy to oblige when Avery asked to change the starting positions of her legs because she had hip problems on the left. They even took advantage of their mutual love of music to better synchronize their movements during warm-up laps; Brown will beat-box and Avery will freestyle rap. “Like a metronome,” says Avery.
The peak of their partnership came in the 100s final in Rio, where Brown hit a Paralympic Games record (10.99) and Avery was so carried away by excitement that he forgot to tell his partner the result. Says Brown: “I remember crossing the line and thinking to myself: Well, did we win? I guess we did it because he’s celebrating here, freaking out. “
But after winning gold at the world championships, in 2017, Team BrAvery failed to advance beyond the 19 semi-finals and finished sixth. Then came the unprecedented layoff, during which Avery contracted plantar fasciitis. As a result, the early June workout was one of their only starting block workouts together since March 20; At the end of the month, Brown won his 100-meter series in the US team events, in 11.38 seconds, with the help of another lead runner, San Diego Mesa College freshman Moray Steward.
Whether he will eventually compete with Avery or Steward in Tokyo has yet to be determined, says Brown, another bit of lingering uncertainty coupled with the unlikely but possible cancellation of the Paralympic Games. (“I still have a bit of that concern”). No matter what, though, your focus won’t change every time you return to the world stage.
Brown will climb to his starting point, with Avery or Steward adjusting the head and hands to make sure they are facing forward. You will slide the strap over your fingers. Then he will take off down the runway, he and his guide in perfect sync: meter by meter, step by step, step by step.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.