Blind sprinter David Brown found clarity in just 10.92 seconds

FIVE YEARS AGO Paralympian and World Champion Sprinter David Brown marched out to the final 100-meter race at Rio Olympics to a cheering crowd of Brazilian fans. He smiled and adjusted his blinders to hear the chants.
He cocked his ears and slapped his legs.

He heard them saying "Gomez. Gomez. Gomez."

They cheered for Felipe Gomez, his main opponent and crowd favorite from Brazil.

"What the... "What the...?" He thought to himself. He thought to himself, "It was now time to get the smackdown."

Jerome Avery, his running guide, was also right beside him and said to David, "You ready?"

David smiled and said, "Oh, I'm ready."

Avery held Brown's hands and walked him along the track for 40m. Then, Avery raised his hand to point at Brown's mother. Brown waved and then returned with Avery to the beginning point.

Avery took out a rope that had two hoops at each end. The rope linked the runners. One was running for a Paralympic medal and the other is helping him to see the finish line. Avery connected his right hand to the hoops. Brown connected his left hand to one end.

The starter's gun went off, and with it came the T11 sprinters. This designation is given to runners who have a visual impairment and need to be guided to race. One sprinter led the race but didn't realize he was winning until the news was whispered to his ears. He was a Paralympic gold medalist, a record holder, with a time in 10.92 seconds. This is an amazing feat that still stands.

Eleven seconds later, his fans shouted, "David! David!"

Avery shouted, "You did that, man." You won gold," Avery jumped on Brown's back and held the U.S. flag in both his hands.

Brown made his way to his sister and mother, placing his fingers on the faces of his sisters, feeling their reactions. He was held by them as they cried with joy.

Brown, who had lost his sight for 10 years at the age of 23, became a gold medalist. He is the world's fastest blind man and will be competing for back-toback gold medals at Tokyo Paralympic Games.

He recalled that he had goosebumps all the time.

Brown also had a secret that only his family knew: Brown was lucky to even be alive to win a gold medal.

A team sport. A team effort.

David Brown, a visually impaired sprinter, and Jerome Avery, his Rio 2016 guide, set their pace and embrace the nerves.

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Sacrifice and hardship

BROWN was 15 months old when Kawasaki disease was discovered. This rare condition causes blood vessels to become inflamed. Brown was diagnosed with Kawasaki disease at the age of 15 months. He developed glaucoma in both his eyes, and lost vision in his left eye by age 3. Brown said that he didn't get a prosthetic eye until he was nine years old and was bullied by children.

He said, "For six years I was walking around with an eye [socket] hole -- and children can be mean."

Brown grew up in Kansas City, Missouri and was terrified of both extremes. He was afraid of going outside because it was too bright, but also afraid of being indoors because it is too dark. He was afraid to go outside because he couldn’t predict or gauge the impact of a ball hitting his face. He stuck to the areas that he had spent hours memorizing.

2001 was another tragic year. His grandmother, who had raised him, died.

Brown was unable to cope with the loss of his only friend, who made him feel secure, over the years.

His mother placed him at the Missouri School of the Blind two years later. Brown and his entire family moved to St. Louis, along with her sister, for Brown's education. Brown watched his aunt, who was one year older, struggle to find a job, a place to live, and to resolve conflicts.

He blamed his own problems and himself for all the difficulties his family experienced.

At 13 years old, he lost his vision in the other eye.

Brown stated, "I ended up snapping." Brown said, "I didn't want it to be here."

"I tried to commit suicide when I was thirteen."

He had to make a change. To find help. That help came in the shape of wrestling. Brown began attending the Missouri School for the Blind's wrestling program. It was a passion for him. He found it gave him purpose and discipline. He spent hours wrestling every day.

Brown stated, "Having that option of wrestling -- being in a position to bulldoze people on the mat -- that was fantastic."

"I applied wrestling in life situations -- let's just say that I wrestle somebody. I am constantly asking myself: "Are you going let this person push me around?" Is it possible to allow life to push you around? It's not going to hold you down. "Don't break now.

He would run whenever he had the time. He found it a great way to stay fit and speed train, and he was very good at it.

Brown believes that sports saved his life.

He wrote an essay in 2008 about his life, about his setbacks and how sports helped him. This essay would take him all the way to Beijing for the Paralympics where he was a spectator at his first track and fields event.

Brown was able to take a different path, a different lane and a new goal that day.

Photo by Toru Hanai/Getty Images

Newfound goal

THE MISSOURI SCHOOL OF THE BLIND was a great help in helping Brown realize that he could become an athlete. The 2008 Paralympic Games, Beijing, made Brown realize something even more important: He wanted to become a track and cross athlete.

He realized that he could make a living out of it, and even a career.

In conjunction with the Paralympic Games in Beijing, the Missouri School for the Blind organized an essay competition for students. The top five essay writers would be flown to Beijing for the Paralympic Games to meet Paralympic athletes. Brown was on the list. He felt the connection in his bones when he walked on the Beijing track and was introduced to the blind runners he had grown up reading about.

He found a new place, a new purpose.

He said, "There were blind people who were just as blind as me, if not worse." I was like "They are running and they're never bumping into anything -- that's possible." It gave me hope and a vision of what I could achieve.

I am fast. This is what I can do. They can't beat me. He said from the sidelines, "I want to beat them."

With a new goal, he returned to Missouri. He began sprint training each day.

Brown was invited by Team USA to participate in the relay competition at the Penn Relays in 2010. This is the largest and oldest track and field competition in America. He met Jerome Avery at the Penn Relays, a long-time guide runner. This friendship helped him to reach Paralympic gold.

He was hungry. He was enthusiastic. Avery stated, "I could see his bright future and I immediately wanted him to work with me."

After leaving Brown behind, they reunited in 2014. Avery recalled a 2014 competition with professional and post-collegiate runners.

Avery stated that people were showing their sympathy for Brown, saying, "Aww, that's a great idea you're doing." But then Brown won the meet and ran a 11.12-mile race breaking the American [Paralymic] Record.

"He was not running for sympathy."

Brown ran with Avery for two years. They worked together to perfect their running technique and become running partners. They had to run together seamlessly if they were to win a Paralympic Medal.

At the Rio Paralympic Games that was exactly what they did. Their arms and legs moved like one body.

Avery knew that Brown had already won the Olympic gold medal. As he crossed the finish line, he smiled with the one of the most difficult runners he had ever had the pleasure of working with.

More special was the fact that Brown wasn't the only one to receive a gold medal on the podium. A gold medal was awarded to an American guide for his race, the first time that this has ever happened. (A 2012 Olympic amendment provided that medals would be awarded to guides as well as their runners).

It was a magical moment for Brown and Avery.

AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

They should make a movie.

BROWN and AVERY are seen walking onto the Staten Island Ferry. Brown uses his stick to direct his steps. As they talk about the Tokyo Paralympics, the camera follows them. Brown claims the 100 is the most difficult race to run "especially for blind people" because they must be acutely aware. He explains that one mistake can mean they are out for medal contention.

Avery sets the stage for Brown. Brown takes his hand and points it towards the Brooklyn Bridge. A replica of the Statue Of Liberty is found by them, and Avery describes to Brown the symbol of opportunity as he moves his hand across Brown's face, her crown, and her gown.

This scene is from the On short film, "Untethered", which was released recently. It was produced by Swiss sportswear brand On. Brown plays the drums, Brown holds onto the hands and touches the field before taking off.

Brown will seek his second gold medal in Tokyo without Avery. Avery sustained injuries that prevented him from being Brown's guide. Brown's dream of a second gold medal was also delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brown used these setbacks to improve his technique. Brown has spent extra time training in Chula Vista, California with his running guide. He is confident and ready to set his own record.

"I am prepared. He said, "Now it's time for me to race."