Shes a pole vaulter, and shes blind Charlotte Brown, right, who is legally blind, sits with her guide dog, Vadar, as she waits to receive her award after competing in the Conference 4A Girls Pole Vault at the UIL Texas State Track and Field Championships (AP photos)
Shes a pole vaulter, and shes blind
Lexile

For three years, Charlotte Brown has been chasing a medal by trying to jump over a bar she couldn't see.

The senior pole vaulter finally cleared that bar, earning a third-place finish at the Texas state high school championships. And proudly joining her on the podium as the bronze medal was draped around her neck her service dog Vador.

Brown is blind, yet that's not stopped her quest to become one of the best in an event that would seem next to impossible.

"I finally did it," Brown said. "If I could send a message to anybody, it's not about pole vaulting and it's not about track, it's about finding something that makes you happy despite whatever obstacles are in your way."

Brown had qualified for the state meet each year since 2013 with Emory Rains High School and she finished eighth as a sophomore and improved to fourth as a junior.

At her hotel room before the finals, Stori Brown tried to counsel her daughter that it was important to remember that she was one of the few to make it this far, whether she won a medal or not.

"No," Charlotte replied, "I need to be on that podium."

Brown was born with normal vision, but developed cataracts when she was 16 weeks old and that led to the first of several operations, including insertion of artificial lenses. Her vision stabilized until she was about 11 when it started to worsen.

By 2013, she still had pinhole vision but couldn't see color or distinguish shape from shadow. Brown is now blind, though while she is not faced with total darkness, her mother described what remains as a "jigsaw puzzle" of mixed up shades of light and dark.

Despite her disability, Brown takes pride in her fierce spirit of independence, born out of growing up in a family with two older brothers who pushed her to help herself in the rural town of Emory, about 75 miles east of Dallas.

Run down a track and hurtle herself more than 11 feet into the air? No problem.

Brown first took up pole vaulting in seventh grade because she wanted something a little "dangerous and exciting." She competes with a combination of fearless abandon and meticulous attention to detail. She counts the seven steps of her left foot on her approach, listening for the sound of a faint beeper placed on the mat that tells her when to plant the pole and push up.

At the state meet, Vador walked her to the warm-up area and stretched out behind the jumpers as they went through each attempt.

Brown missed her first attempts at 10-0 feet and 10-6 but cleared both on her second try. She cleared 11-0 on her first attempt, then soared over 11-6. She secured a medal when two other vaulters bowed out at that height, leaving Brown among the last three in the field.

She made three attempts at 11-9 but missed each one. She briefly slumped her shoulders and shook her head after her final attempt, then got to her feet to acknowledge the standing ovation from several hundred fans she could hear but not see.

"She came to win," said her father, Ian Brown. "As parents, we are thrilled she got on the podium."

Brown medaled in a talented field. Sydney King, who won gold at a height of 12-3, has signed with Oklahoma to pole vault in college.

"I don't how many people could do that," King said. "Her story, she's what keeps me going when things aren't going right for me."

Brown is headed to Purdue on an academic scholarship and plans to walk on in track.

"It took me three years to get on the podium and I finally did it," Brown said. "This story ... really wasn't about me. It was about everybody that struggles with something."

Critical thinking challenge: Why does Charlotte only count the steps of her left foot?

Assigned 25 times


COMMENTS (60)
  • Joni-Pav
    5/21/2015 - 09:50 a.m.

    I saw this on sports center and its amazing. She uses her hearing to pole vault and shes living her dream. She is an inspiration because she just does not pole vault and not succeed she does it and is good at it.

  • Time-Pav
    5/21/2015 - 09:51 a.m.

    some day I would like to have a chance to try and pole vault. This is amazing that she can do it blind, I can probably not even do it and I can see! This is kind of like wheels from Nitro Circus. He rides a wheel chair and does all kinds of tricks. This is truly amazing!

  • raevynj-Koc
    5/21/2015 - 11:59 a.m.

    Pole vaulting when you can see is dangerous the fact that this girl is blind and pole vaults is crazy! This girl is very dedicated and brave. It's amazing that she placed in 3rd at her high school, shows that anything is possible if you put your mind to it.

  • clairedoucet
    5/21/2015 - 12:51 p.m.

    Any sport, I imagine, would be very difficult for someone who is blind. This story is very inspirational because even though so many people thought that she couldn't do it she tried and tried as hard as she could and finally made it. Reading this made me think about my own life. A couple years ago, I really wanted make the all-star soccer team so I practiced and practiced. Then, when I didn't score a goal in a game I was so upset that I wouldn't make the team, but I just kept playing my hardest and ended up making it just like how Charlotte got on the podium in the story. Charlotte's story just proves that you can do whatever you set your mind to even if people say you can't. Just keep trying and eventually you'll get there!!!!!

  • jaceydanks12
    5/21/2015 - 12:52 p.m.

    Hearing about all these stories of the amazing things you can do when you set your mind to it. Most of these people can not see, hear, do things one handed, and even people with cancer are doing what they can in case life is cut a little to short. Charlotte not being able to see where she is going and where the bar is, but some three years later she is on the Podium with girls who can see what they are doing. These stories are what males people who doubt themselves want to keep going. Many of us do things out of inspiration and where do we get that? Where no one else can see, out of peer heart and mind.

  • kateduffy27
    5/21/2015 - 01:18 p.m.

    Stories like these, athletes with disabilities accomplishing their goals, are really inspiring. They're proving that even though they have some obstacles to get past, they can still accomplish something great. I've heard of many athletes with missing limbs, such as Bethany Hamilton and Melissa Stockwell, but I've never heard of any competitors with disabilities such as being blind or deaf. Being blind or having missing limbs shouldn't get in the way of doing what you want to do, and Charlotte Brown is a great example of that.

  • GigiSylvester-Ste
    5/21/2015 - 07:53 p.m.

    This is pretty impressive. I can see, and I'm pretty sure i couldn't do it. I tried doing it for track this year,and it's nearly impossible. I feel like pole vaulting is something that's hard to be good at.

  • ShaniaWentz-Ste
    5/21/2015 - 09:16 p.m.

    I have always wanted to be a pole volter. But I have been so scared to actually try it and see what's it's like because I'm scared that the pole beneath me will break and injure me. But reading this made me realize that I need to get over my fear and try it. If she can do it, so can I!

  • jeremyw-Goo
    5/22/2015 - 08:52 a.m.

    Charlotte Brown is one, if not the only, blind pole vaulter in the country. The text states that she only counts the step on her left foot so she knows when to take off. The text also states that she got a bronze medal for getting third at the Texas state high school championships. The evidence from the text shows that even with a disability, Charlotte was still able to do what she loved.

  • nicolem-Goo
    5/22/2015 - 11:03 a.m.

    Charlotte counts the steps of her left foot so she knows when to take off. Charlotte is a blind pole vaulter who qualified to go to state for track and field in Texas. She placed third with a jump of 11-6. Charlotte is a inspiration to people all over the country, not only track runners or pole vaulters but anyone who feels like they can't do something.

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