Legally blind pole vaulter soars as role model at state meet

AUSTIN – Charlotte Brown didn’t set out to be an inspiration.

But that’s the spot she has found herself in as more and more people find out about her story.

Brown, a 16-year-old junior from Emory Rains, is legally blind, but that hasn’t stopped her from excelling in track and field. She not only runs for the Wildcats, but Friday she competed at the Class 3A state meet for the second time in the pole vault at Mike A. Myers Stadium.

She was disappointed she finished tied for fourth, putting her one step away from the medal stand. But Brown recognized the magnitude of the moment as she was surrounded by cameras and reporters.

“When I set out to pole vault and try to figure this out, I never thought this is going to be an inspiration to people or I’m going to be a role model to people,” said Brown, who cleared 11 feet. “I definitely realized that when small kids come up to you and they just think you’re the coolest thing ever. That is something that I really appreciate – that I can do that.

“I didn’t intend to be a role model, but if I can be one and I can inspire just one kid, then every bad day jumping and every bruise on the way was worth it.”

Brown was born with normal vision but developed sight problems that required surgery when she was an infant and a later procedure during elementary school. She has described her vision as looking through a coffee stirrer. She can’t distinguish colors or shapes, and she can’t tell if something is 2 or 20 feet away.

It has never stopped her, though.

She competed in summer track with her two older brothers. When Brown races, she runs in the inside lane, where the contrast between the track (usually black) and grass guides her around.

That’s not the case with the pole vault, which Brown first tried in middle school. She can’t see the box to plant the pole or the bar to clear. She can’t see the landing pit.

Brown counts her steps (seven with her left foot) and trusts herself to find her spot and jump. Last year, she used an indoor-outdoor carpet put down next to the running lane to create the contrast.

This year, she couldn’t see the contrast anymore, so a beeper was placed above the box. The high-frequency sound “tells” her how close she is.

“It beeps constantly when I go, so then I can hear where I’m supposed to plant the pole,” Brown said. “And as I count my steps, I know it kind of works in conjunction. So when I get to seven and I hear the beep, it’s time to go up.”

Brown cleared 11-3 to finish second at regionals. Wimberley’s Kally Long ran away with the state title Friday, setting a 3A record at 13-2.

“As a competitor, the main goal is to win – that’s what everybody wants to do,” said Brown, who hopes to also advance in either the 400- or 800-meter races next year. “When I look at it, I moved up four places (from eighth in 2013). Hopefully, I can move up another four places next year and win it.”

Added Emory Rains track coach Jeff Lester: “This is exactly what we live for – storybook-type stories. We look for good stories and good things in the news, and this is what we all aspire to hear. We hear all this negative stuff in the press, but we live for stuff like this. This is what it’s all about.”



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