Sprinting into the Record Books

Beating all the odds, the fastest blind man on Earth has a message: look beyond your limitations and live your dream.

As a young child at 15 months of age, David Brown was diagnosed with Kawasaki disease that later developed into glaucoma. His family was told he would never walk or grow over five-feet tall, but the dire diagnosis was not a fate Brown would submit to. Raised in an athletic family, he engaged in sports especially basketball. By age 13, he totally lost his sight and moved with his mother and sister from Kansas City to St. Louis where he could attend the Missouri School for the Blind.

Running Towards His Dream

Being blind did not diminish his interests in athletics and he participated in sprinting, wrestling, and goalball. He also developed a talent for music playing drums, piano, and even a tenor saxophone in a jazz band. But it was track and field that became his passion, taking on the challenge to test his personal limits.

In 2008, Brown won an essay contest that sent him to the Paralympic Games in Beijing, China. Enthralled with the roar of the crowd, he could at this point only make out blurred shapes and colors. The trip became the starting block in fulfilling his dream to become a Paralympian. “I came back home and wrote out a lifetime plan. I wanted to run fast,” he says to the Los Angeles Times.

In 2012, Joaquim Cruz, the Brazilian Olympic champion middle distance runner, took Brown under his wing and coached him as a sprint runner. Soon, the boy who was told he could never walk earned a spot on the 2012 Paralympic Team. And as for being told he would never reach beyond a five-foot stature; his muscular frame now stands at five-foot-eight. He was invited to live and train at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California which he felt suited his goals perfectly.

A World Record Sprint

In 2014, Brown had the good fortune to start running with Jerome Avery, a veteran guide who ran in four Paralympics. Avery was the only guide that could keep up with Brown’s powerful speed. Together, they competed in 100 – 400 m distance races at the 2012 and 2016 Paralympics. The tandem team also sprinted in the 2013 and 2015 world championships, winning the 100 m race in 2015 and 2016. The two made world history in 2014 with Brown being the first totally blind athlete to run 100 m in under 11 seconds, accomplished while tethered. After that feat, they knew theirs was a perfect pairing.

Brown is a two-time Paralympian in 2012 and 2016. As a guided team, Brown and Avery won numerous medals including the 2016 Paralympic (Gold), IPC Athletics World Championships 2013, 2015, 2017 (2 Gold, 2 Silver), and 2015 Parapan American Games (2 Gold). The pair, calling themselves “Team BrAvery,” continues to train at the center in Chula Vista. Brown and Avery are among the athletes named to Team Toyota in the run up to the Tokyo 2020 Summer Paralympics.

Brown and Avery became a winning team through their bond of trust and perfectly synchronized movements. “You definitely have to have the rhythm in order to run with the guys such as David Brown, who’s extremely fast,” says Avery in an interview with Toyota, a proud partner of Paralympics. “I have to mimic the way he runs. I have to run exactly like him. So, as soon as he touches the ground, his inside foot, my inside foot touches the ground. Perfect example. It’s like a three-legged race.”

Take a moment to watch the magic of Brown and Avery at the 2016 Paralympic Team Trials…

The True Value of Success

Avery had Olympic aspirations, but he set that aside for a greater purpose, to help others become achievers.  After failing to lock in a spot in the U.S. Olympic Team Trials, he took up a friend’s suggestion to be a guide for blind athletes at the 2004 Athens Paralympics. Being a guide came naturally to him, he was well-suited and realized he had found his true calling. For Avery, success comes when standing at the winners podium with those he guided knowing he had a part in it. When Brown wins, Avery wins, both share the glory.

When not racking up medals or being a public speaker who inspires others to achieve their dreams, Brown enjoys listening to music and playing his instruments. Basketball, reading, writing poetry, and spending time with friends are also favorite activities.

But behind every champion are those that encouraged and motivated him from the very start, in this case, his mother, grandfather, and Cruz who he calls his heroes. Brown says Avery is his inspiration as are those with disabilities who fight every day to be achievers. “We might be disabled, but there’s a lot of things we are able to do at the same time. Let that be an inspiration to everybody. There’s no limit to what you can do,” Brown says in an interview with Missouri TrackFanatic. “The biggest limitation is in your head.”

Brown and Avery are like brothers with ties running deeper than the tether held between them. As they perfect their training, eventually the tether will be removed, and Brown will rely on touch and sound for guidance. At that point, his speed and potential unleashed, we’ll keep a watchful eye on where in history his love for running will take him, inspiring us along the way.