Blind pole vaulter surprises at state finals

Camille Weber/Sports columnist

We’ve all heard about athletes who were challenged to beat the odds to continue to compete in the sport they love. For high school Junior Charlotte Brown, it was her blindness that she had to learn to accept and adjust in order to aim high and compete in her second Texas State track and field class 3A Championship. 

Charlotte Brown’s vision has been deteriorating at an alarming rate since last year’s State Competition. She’s been losing her site ever since she was 16 weeks old. Doctors have been baffled by her condition ever since and despite multiple surgeries to try to save her vision, none of them worked. Last year, Brown was diagnosed as legally blind right before the State Competition. Despite the news, Brown was able to compete and took eighth place in the Texas State Competition clearing 10ft 6in.   

In an interview with ABC’s Steve Osunsami, Brown does not see her blindness as merely an obstacle that can be moved and jumped over. “I think everyone struggles with something in life,” said Brown. “This is my something.”

Brown’s vision is almost completely gone. The most she is able to see is as much as what normal visioned people can see looking down the whole of a dark straw. So how is she able to not only pole vault, but be one of the best pole vaulter’s in the country? 

There are nine steps that Brown takes in order to compete at her highest level. First she walks with her guide dog, Vador, to familiarize herself with her surroundings and memorize the route from pit to starting line.  Next, Brown counts her steps like any other pole-vaulter, but marks her starting point with the lid of her chalk container so she can find it easily with her foot. Her Coach then lays artificial turf next to her lane.  Brown is still able to make out the difference between dark and light colors, so the difference between the turf and her lane helps her to run straight. Brown then takes down the 81 foot run way and counts each of her steps, planting on stride six and jumping on stride seven. A beeper which Brown tucks between the pads and the planting box helps guide her to the vaulting box.  Her coach also acts as a back-up to the high pitched beeper.  After planting the pole into the vaulting box, Brown is up in the air and is able to clear the bar.  

This year Brown finished in a two-way tie for fourth with a clearing height of 11 feet 6 inches, a remarkable one foot improvement since last year’s competition.  Although she admits to have jumped higher during practice, even her competitors are impressed with Brown’s perseverance.  

“The biggest way I can describe it is that everybody knows her from pole vault, but she [also] runs the last leg of the mile relay. We were fortunate to beat her once, but we know we have to have a lead on her because when she’s coming down that homestretch and driving her arms, let me tell you, that competitive spirit is impressive.” 

So next time you Wildcats are lacking motivation to overcome an obstacle whether it be on the field or in the classroom, just remember that there are individuals all around us who are re-writing the rules, defying the odds and succeeding despite the hardships.   

Junior Amanda Gibbon prepares to take a jump in the women's pole vault event. Gibbon cleared a height of 3.05 meters which put her on the Linfield top ten list.
Photo by Graham Romero. Junior Amanda Gibbon prepares to take a jump in the women’s pole vault event. Gibbon cleared a height of 3.05 meters which put her on the Linfield top ten list.