Shes a pole vaulter, and shes blind
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: 1180L

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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?

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Assigned 27 times

  • marlieholmes13
    5/22/2015 - 12:42 p.m.

    I think this article is inspiring because Charlotte is a pole vaulter and she's blind. She took third place in her finals. When she is running she counts seven steps on her left foot and then she knows when to jump. Sydney King, who won the gold said her story is what keeps her going when things aren't going right for her. Charlotte said, "It really wasn't about me. It was about everybody that struggles with something." The highest a girl has ever gotten in high school pole vaulting is 16 feet.

  • coreyong-Koc
    5/22/2015 - 03:24 p.m.

    The federal government hopes to reverse America's declining honeybee and monarch butterfly populations by making more federal land bee-friendly, spending more money on research and considering the use of less pesticides.
    Scientists say bees crucial to pollinate many crops have been hurt by a combination of declining nutrition, mites, disease and pesticides. The federal plan is an "all hands on deck" strategy that calls on everyone from federal bureaucrats to citizens to do what they can to save bees, which provide more than $15 billion in value to the U.S. economy, according to White House science adviser John Holdren.
    "Pollinators are struggling," Holdren said in a blog post. He cited a new federal survey that found beekeepers lost more than 40 percent of their colonies last year, although they later recovered by dividing surviving hives. He also said the number of monarch butterflies that spend the winter in Mexico's forests is down by 90 percent or more over the past two decades. The U.S. government is working with Mexico to expand monarch habitats in the southern part of that country.
    The plan calls for restoring 7 million acres of bee habitat in the next five years. Numerous federal agencies will have to find ways to grow plants on federal lands that are more varied and better for bees to eat because scientists have worried that large land tracts that grow only one crop have hurt bee nutrition.

  • GrantW-2
    5/22/2015 - 03:54 p.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 I think this girl should get an award.

  • zarid-Koc
    5/23/2015 - 05:24 p.m.

    This article really inspired me to go after my dreams. I'm more motivated than ever before and just overall in awe about what this young lady was able to do despite her disability.

  • juanc-Koc
    5/25/2015 - 12:44 a.m.

    first this amazing with the story back it but she says "This is story really wasn't about me, it was about everybody that struggles with something." She got heart and this is prove do something you love and prove everyone wrong.

  • danay-Old
    5/25/2015 - 12:59 p.m.

    I believe the reason she counts the steps to only to her left is because it would be easier to keep track if she is running. It'd take too much focus to count that fast while trying to listen for a faint beep. Why she chose her left foot? I wouldn't know; her left foot is probably her dominant foot. I believe that she is an iconic role model for people with disabilities who wish to play sports, she is an enforcer of the phrase "Anything is possible". It gives people courage and the inspiration to do what they want regardless of their disability.

  • daytond-Old
    5/25/2015 - 01:03 p.m.

    it would give a huge impact for people who have a problem it might give them motivation to go out and know that they can still conquer there dreams.

  • danielb1-Old
    5/25/2015 - 01:03 p.m.

    I believe that this can give hope to those who are disabled. I don't think this could apply to anyone without a disability though because they wouldn't have to go through the same difficulties as her.

  • kylen1-Old
    5/25/2015 - 01:08 p.m.

    I think that this has a strong impact on people who struggle with a disability. The news that someone with a disability is able to do something so amazing and dangerous is pretty shocking and in-your-face. For disabled people this is a ray of hope that even they can do things like this that even a non-disabled person might not be able to do. Bottom line: even if youre disabled you can, with enough hard work, become even better than someone who is not disabled. This news can apply to sports by showing that even disabled people can do sports and sometimes even beat those who are not disabled. It can give them courage to try new sports that they previously deemed impossible. The same can also be said for everyday life where this news can give hope and inspiration to try new things and have a new outlook on the world.

  • garyh1-Old
    5/25/2015 - 01:11 p.m.

    What impact does this have on those who struggle with a disability? How would it apply to sports and in daily life?

    It has a huge impact for the people with a disability. It is difficult for them to do something that they really want to do. They have to struggle so hard and take very long time to do it like a normal person.

    In our daily life, when we have some obstacles, we should try our best to go over the obstacles and keep moving on.

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