DES MOINES — David Brown couldn’t see 14,504 fans packed into Drake Stadium in Des Moines on Saturday.
He’s totally blind.
But the sprinter could feel them.
“Drake is an amazing atmosphere,” Brown said. “I can’t really explain it. The electricity out there is so … well honestly, electrifying. You can’t help but to just run fast. The track is a great track to run on and the atmosphere is like the Paralympic Games. It’s great, I love it.”
Brown took second in the men’s Paralympic 200-meter race with a time of 23.17, two hundredths of a second behind the winner, Tim Tanner.
Brown won the 100-meter dash in 2016 in Rio with a time of 10.92, the first Paralympian to finish under 11 seconds. Brown is better at the 100 than the 200 and 400, which he also runs, because there aren’t turns. Turns can be particularly hard to navigate for someone who can’t see.
He uses a guide runner to help him stay in his lane and successfully maneuver the turns.
“Running the 200 curve is hard because I have to stay in tight but not too tight to push my guide out of the way and then not swing out wide,” Brown said. “It’s all about listening to his cues and running full speed at the same time. There’s a lot going on out there.”
Being a guide is no small task either. They have to be faster than the runner they’re guiding. If the guide starts to lag behind, the runner doesn’t have a chance.
Brown’s guide is 2000, 2004 and 2008 Olympic trials qualifier Jerome Avery. Avery’s been a guide since 2004.
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Brown started competing in 2010, but Avery wasn’t his guide at the time, and eventually Brown got too fast for his guide.
“We had to bring out the big guns,” Brown said. “I tapped into some speed I never even knew was there.”
His first year running with Avery, Brown set the American record. By the third year, he broke the world record.
“He puts in his work, and that makes me have to work just as hard,” Avery said. “When we’re done training, I have to do a little bit extra to make sure I can keep up with this guy.”
They don’t just train the physical aspect of the race, being completely blind, they also have to train the strategy aspect of it.
“It’s a hard thing for him to keep me in line,” Brown said. “I’m a power sprinter, so to keep all of this power in tight to him, but at the same time talk and yell the whole way around is very hard. What we do on the track, is all about the behind the scenes things day in and day out. We’re going over race strategies and the race every day — not only through verbal but physical cues.”
When Brown crossed the finish line at the Drake Relays, the whole stadium stood and cheered for him.
He knows he and his fellow competitors are viewed as inspirations.
“We might have disabilities, but they aren’t disabling us,” Brown said. “Let that be an inspiration to everybody. There is no limit to what you can do. The biggest limitation is in your head.”
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