Blind teen is one of the best pole vaulters in Texas Charlotte Brown, left, competes in the Girls 3A pole vault at the UIL State Track & Field meet
Blind teen is one of the best pole vaulters in Texas
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Charlotte Brown used her seeing-eye dog to navigate the track. An electronic beeper with a high-pitched signal told her when it was time to jump.

About 90 minutes later, the blind pole vaulter had cleared three heights, soaring 11 feet to earn a tie for fourth place at the Texas high school state championships Friday.

Brown, who finished eighth a year ago, received a standing ovation at the University of Texas track, but fell just short of a medal.

And that made it a mixed afternoon for an athlete who has overcome great adversity to rank among the best in the state in such a physically demanding event.

Brown was clearly proud of her improved finish, but there was a hint of disappointment in the 16-year-old junior who believes she can earn a state championship medal.

"The main goal is to win," Brown said. "Today wasn't my best day jumping. ... I moved up four places. Hopefully, I can move up four places next year and win it."

Brown qualified for the state meet at a height of 11 feet, 3 inches. That tied for third best among the nine competitors in Class 3A, the state's mid-sized schools. She breezed through her first three vaults, clearing 10-0, 10-6 and 11-0 on her first attempt at each height. A year ago, Brown cleared 10-6 before she was knocked out.

Her trouble came at 11-6, with her twice hitting the bar on her way up. When she finally fell to the mat after he third miss, she stood with slumped shoulders. But she drew a standing ovation by several hundred people in the corner of stadium by the vault pit.

"I wanted to go higher, but to be cheered like that is pretty cool," she said.

Kally Long, who won the event at 13-2 to defend her state title, was impressed by Brown's improvement from a year ago.

"The fact she fights so hard for everything she wants, it was awesome to see her do better than last year," Long said.

Brown lives in rural Emory, a town of 1,200 about 65 miles east of Dallas. She was born with normal vision but developed cataracts when she was 16 weeks old. 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.

In 2013, Brown still had pinhole vision but couldn't see color or distinguish shape from shadow. Now she says she's completely blind.

Brown vaults with a combination of fearless abandon and meticulous attention to detail. She counts the seven steps of her left foot on her approach and when she picks up the sound of the beeper placed on the mat, it's time to plant the pole and push up.

Her seeing-eye dog, Vador, who she gives the nickname "Darth," sat behind the jumpers on the track and waited for her to finish.

Twice on Friday she delayed jumps when the booming public address announcer introduced medal winners or competitors. Brown waited him out and meet officials eventually asked for quiet.

The beeper was a recent innovation that was needed as her vision became worse. Brown, however, is optimistic that because her sight is now completely gone, she'll be a better vaulter because she won't have to constantly adjust to new training methods.

"I guess people think it's frustrating to have to change all the time, but that's what life is, it's changing all the time," Brown said. "When I lost the rest of my vision, I just thought of it as another chance to overcome something. ... The bright side is, I'm already totally blind. I don't have to figure out another way to vault. I can't get any blinder. What I figure out now will work the rest of my vaulting career."

Critical thinking challenge: Charlotte didnt win a medal, but she got a standing ovation. Why?

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COMMENTS (106)
  • Lorena N
    5/11/2014 - 05:04 p.m.

    Summary: Charlotte Brown, a blind girl of 16 year old is competing in a jumping competition in Texas.
    She started with sight problems since she was sixteen weeks old. After going through several operations to repair the damage caused by cataracts. Finally at age 11 she began to lose her sight completely.
    To make the sport she uses an electronic beeper and is helped by her seeing-eye dog.
    Her goal is to win a competition, for that she works very hard. Eventhough this time it was not her best jump, the audience stood cheering her participation.
    Opinion: In my opinion, disability is only in the minds of people. You can do anything you set your mind to if you work hard. No limits for persevering person regardless of physical limitations. You probably need to work harder, but with persistence and perseverance anything can be achieved. This girl is an example.

  • kameron5k22
    5/11/2014 - 11:02 p.m.

    That is cool!! I can't believe that a blind man is the best pole-vaulter in Texas. that guy must me really good at sencing stuff

  • ShaylaEttley
    5/12/2014 - 12:09 a.m.

    This article is about Charlotte Brown who is blind and won fourth place at the Texas high school state championships. When it was her turn to jump a high-pitched signal went off when it was her time to go. Charlotte was disappointed because she believes she can earn a state championship medal. Charlotte ended up winning a better place, rather than her 8th place. This article is very interesting to me because it is surprising that someone who is blind can know where to place the pole when she is running.

  • Carebear22
    5/12/2014 - 09:50 a.m.

    They gave her a standing ovation because it is hard to be blind and yet she beat many other people. She can not see but what she does is incredible. Nobody can stop her because the way I see it she is striving for a medal and you best believe she will one day achieve her goal and win a state medal.

  • Hailey33301
    5/12/2014 - 09:51 a.m.

    I thinks it's really cool that she's blind and she can do pole vaults, I would think even if you had a sensor you would still need to see to do them. She's obviously born to do this and she's very talented.

  • Dynasty22
    5/12/2014 - 09:54 a.m.

    I feel that Charlotte is very brave. The fact that she doesn't let her disabilities get to her and keep her from doing something she likes is great and really honoring. Charlotte got a standing ovation because even though she is blind, she came to incredible heights to accomplish something like vaulting. Even with my eye-sight I still wouldn't be able to vault at heights in which she did.

  • Ashleyjd1
    5/12/2014 - 09:54 a.m.

    I'm so glad that there are strong people who learn to live and have fun with their disability instead of sit around and feel sorry for their self.

  • Ashleyjd1
    5/12/2014 - 09:55 a.m.

    I'm so glad that there are strong people who learn to live and have fun with their disability instead of sit around and feel sorry for their self.

  • Ashleyjd1
    5/12/2014 - 09:55 a.m.

    I'm so glad that there are strong people who learn to live and have fun with their disability instead of sit around and feel sorry for their self.

  • Laurin Rippy
    5/12/2014 - 09:55 a.m.

    She didn't win a meddle but she got a standing ovation. The reason? I believe it's because she tried her hardest. She's blind so she cant see where she's running, but she can use her other senses , which is really hard. Humans rely on sight, but she lost her sight. She didn't give up though and she was able to do what a lot of people can't . It's really amazing, it just goes to show how amazing you can be if your optimistic!

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