Blind pole vaulter Charlotte Brown finishes third at state meet

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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.”

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APAP Photo/Eric Gay

Kendall Gretsch wins six gold medals at Para Nordic Ski Worlds

Kendall Gretsch
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Kendall Gretsch, who won Paralympic titles at the last Summer and Winter Games, added another six gold medals at the World Para Nordic Skiing Championships in Sweden last week.

Gretsch, 30, earned seven total medals in seven days between biathlon and cross-country skiing.

Gretsch won gold medals in three different sports across the last three Paralympics: biathlon and cross-country skiing in 2018 (two years after taking up the sports), triathlon in 2021 and biathlon in 2022.

She plans to shift her focus back to triathlon after this winter for 2024 Paris Games qualification.

Gretsch, born with spina bifida, was the 2014 USA Triathlon Female Para Triathlete of the Year. Though triathlon was added to the Paralympics for the 2016 Rio Games, her classification was not added until Tokyo.

Also at last week’s worlds, six-time Paralympian Aaron Pike earned his first Paralympic or world championships gold medal in his decade-plus career, winning a 12.5km biathlon event.

Oksana Masters, who won seven medals in seven events at last year’s Paralympics to break the career U.S. Winter Paralympics medals record, missed worlds due to hand surgery.

The U.S. also picked up five medals at last week’s World Para Alpine Skiing Championships in Spain — three silvers for five-time Paralympian Laurie Stephens and two bronzes for 17-year-old Saylor O’Brien.

Stephens now has 18 career medals from world championships, plus seven at the Paralympics.

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World champion skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche at age 31

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Kyle Smaine, a retired world champion halfpipe skier, died in an avalanche in Japan on Sunday, according to NBC News, citing Smaine’s father. He was 31.

Smaine, a 2015 World champion in ski halfpipe, had been doing ski filming in Japan, sharing videos on his Instagram account over the past week.

The native of South Lake Tahoe, California, finished ninth in ski halfpipe at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

In 2018, Smaine won the fifth and final U.S. Olympic qualifying series event in ski halfpipe but did not make the four-man team for PyeongChang. His last sanctioned international competition was in February 2018.

Late Sunday, two-time Olympic champion David Wise won the X Games men’s ski halfpipe and dedicated it to Smaine.

“We all did this for Kyle tonight,” Wise said on the broadcast. “It’s a little bit of an emotional day for us. We lost a friend.”