In an edition of ‘How I got into…’ we find out how U.S. world champion and world record holder Richard Browne started out in Para athletics.
Growing up, sport for Richard Browne meant only one thing—American football.
College football beckoned—the springboard to the professional league—but all that changed during Browne’s junior high school year in 2007 when he suffered a traumatic accident, slipping in the rain and crashing through a glass window in Jackson, Mississippi.Several surgeries later, his right leg was amputated below the knee.
“I always tell people that I wish I would’ve got my leg cut off immediately because I would’ve gone to the 2008 Games, but I had 13 surgeries and went three years before getting my leg cut off,” explained Browne.
Not that track and field was immediately on his mind—after his football career ended, Browne kept playing basketball, using his walking leg. “It was a fluke—it was absolute luck. My prosthetist saw me playing basketball on my walking leg and a company donated me a running leg just off the back of that,” said Browne.
“The first thing I did was get on YouTube and watch the 2008 (Paralympic Games) 100m.” The race was won by South African Oscar Pistorius, with US sprinter Jerome Singleton clinching silver; two-time US Paralympic champion Marlon Shirley fell. “I remember Marlon going down. He was my everything—he was fast, he was the world record holder, he had gold medals, he was unapologetic for being a disabled athlete and I loved that.” In fact, Shirley was a great inspiration to the young American—when the pair met, he encouraged Browne even more.
“He told me ‘You know what, you’re going to be good at this’ and ever since then I was like, this is for me,” said Browne. But despite being a keen sportsman all his life, athletics did not come easily.
“I’d never tried track until after I lost my leg, so it was really weird transitioning from being an American footballer to being an amputee T44 sprinter. It was very different, and it was hard for me. “I remember quitting first, I had a conversation with my girlfriend at the time—I remember crying because I quit, but it was so hard just to get out there and run, especially being on that blade—it was different. “My hamstrings were weak and my hips were weak because I hadn’t used any of these muscles that you need to run in three and a half years.”
But Browne persevered—a mindset he puts down to his upbringing.
“It was that mentality that my mum taught us growing up—if you’re going to do something, be the best at it,” explained the 25-year-old, who won World Championship gold in October 2015 in a world record time of 10.61 seconds.
As for persevering, it’s because Browne just wants to be the best. He recalls his first race against British sprinter Jonnie Peacock, who went on to win Paralympic gold in 2012. It was in 2011 at Crystal Palace in London: “I raced Jonnie and I remember that race vividly because I freaked out—Jonnie was telling me his personal best and mine was nowhere close to what those guys were running. My PB at the time was like 11.8 and those guys were running 11.4 or 11.5. I hadn’t made the national team, I was pretty much a nobody and I remember when I told Jonnie my time he laughed! “I went out there and lost to him by 0.05 seconds. I ran 11.56 and the next year, boom, it all began. Losing races, those things didn’t sit with me well.”
Browne clinched silver behind Peacock at London 2012, a result that was repeated at the 2013 World Championships in Lyon, France 10 months later. “People don’t understand how that 2013 race affected me mentally—I did not want to lose another race,” said Browne, who had broken the world record in his World Championship semi-final.
“Never again would I feel like that. I felt like I had lost my leg all over again, it was the worse feeling in the world and I was like ‘Never again will I feel like this. I want to be the best.’”
Source: International Paralympic Committee
Photo Credit: Cory Ryan