A blind 17-year-old pole vaulter earned a bronze medal in the Texas high school Class 4A state championship meet Saturday.
Charlotte Brown, a senior from Emory Rains High School, cleared 11 feet, 6 inches, for third place in Austin. In 2014, she tied for fourth after missing all three of her attempts at 11 feet, 6 inches.
“We finally did it,” Brown told reporters while wearing her medal. “It really wasn’t about me. It was about everybody that struggles with something. … This just happens to be what I struggle with. I wouldn’t say that it would necessarily be a big obstacle because there’s always a way to overcome something. So I think 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.”
The New York Times and The Associated Press profiled Brown before she finished eighth at the 2013 state meet. She’s improved her pole vaulting while her vision has worsened. From the AP this year:
Brown 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.
By 2013, she still had pinhole vision but couldn’t see color or distinguish shape from shadow. Brown is now blind. While not faced with total darkness, her mother described what remains as a “jigsaw puzzle” of mixed up shades of light and dark.
Her seeing eye dog, Vador, joined Brown on the podium Saturday. Brown will attend Purdue and try to walk on to the track team, according to reports.
“You have to be a little bit crazy to pole vault,” said Brown, who started pole vaulting around seventh grade and jumps with an orange beeper above the plant box to help her know where to plant her pole after counting her steps. “I want to pick the hardest thing I can possibly think of. … Pole vault seemed dangerous.”