By Karen Value |
Dec. 06, 2018,
2:34 p.m. (ET)

Clara Brown competes in biking.


With out sounding an excessive amount of like a beloved movie starring Tom Hanks, life is filled with unexpected twists and turns which are able to fully altering one’s trajectory. 

It’s an idea with which Para-cyclist Clara Brown may be very acquainted.

As soon as a promising younger gymnast, she is now competing for the primary time on the U.S. Paralympics Observe Biking Nationwide Championships in Colorado Springs, Colorado, starting Saturday. In January she’ll be a part of Workforce USA’s residency program on the U.S. Olympic Coaching Middle, which labored out nicely contemplating how she left her dwelling in Seattle.

“I had utilized mid-November (for the residency program) and got here (to Colorado Springs) for nationals early as a result of my coach has a home right here,” stated Brown, 23. “I drove from Seattle with all my stuff as a result of I didn’t need to be in Seattle anymore, so I believed if I didn’t get accepted I’d in all probability return to Montana, the place I used to be dwelling final winter. I simply drove right here with all my stuff hoping it labored out, and it did.”

If that makes Brown appear to be the kind of one that adapts nicely to alter and isn’t afraid to dive into new challenges, there’s loads of different proof to recommend the identical factor.  

At age 12, rising up in Falmouth, Maine, Brown was a aggressive Stage 7 gymnast and steadily shifting up the ranks. A freak accident within the health club in March 2008 modified all that, nonetheless, leaving her with fractured C5 and C6 vertebrae and spinal twine harm that paralyzed her from the neck down.

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Brown moved to the Shepherd Middle in Atlanta, the place they specialise in spinal twine and mind damage rehabilitation, and it was there that she started to get some feeling and performance again. By June she was strolling on the treadmill. By August, nonetheless, she started experiencing excruciating ache in her left leg and was recognized with avascular necrosis, which was slicing off the blood provide and inflicting bone to die. 

An experimental process at Duke College in December was designed to assist regrow bone and Brown spent a 12 months in a wheelchair protecting weight off the leg, however the operation was in the end unsuccessful.

At 15, Brown had a hip substitute. She nonetheless has a lifeless bone in her foot from the place the necrosis got here again her freshman 12 months of school.

It was quite a bit for an adolescent to deal with, however Brown sees her age on the time as a optimistic. 

“My mother and father tried actually onerous to not emphasize the severity of it, and I feel that helped my mentality quite a bit,” she stated. “I didn’t fairly realize it was so everlasting. I at all times assumed I used to be going again to gymnastics they usually wouldn’t let the docs inform me it wasn’t going to be within the playing cards. However it was one of many good issues that I used to be capable of be ignorant to my scenario.”

Her mother and father additionally helped her discover methods to maintain the aggressive juices flowing, and that helped set her on the trail to the place she is now. 

Brown’s mom was a rower, and she or he recommended that her daughter look into turning into a coxswain throughout her restoration. 

“It was one of many few sports activities I could possibly be a part of,” she stated. “I simply needed to sit there and direct individuals and yell at them.”

She coxed her highschool boys’ crew and likewise a masters males’s crew. It was with the older boat, the place the common age was 55, she stated, that she first began to consider biking.

“They had been into biking in addition to rowing they usually form of launched me to it,” she stated. “Then as soon as I received to school, one in every of my good associates was additionally a rower, however he labored at a motorbike store. I defined what was happening with me bodily and he was like, ‘I guess we may modify a motorbike for you.’”

Brown nonetheless wasn’t positive it was going to be doable, however she continued to seek out the thought intriguing since sports activities that required affect, working or contact had been out of the query.

Her greatest considerations with biking had been braking and shifting, since her proper hand is nearly fully paralyzed, she stated. However they put the rear brake on the left so she wouldn’t flip over the handlebars if she braked onerous, and used bar finish shifters that she may hook together with her wrist if want be to alter gears.

“It labored on the time, however as soon as I modified to an digital setup I can’t consider I ever rode like that,” she stated. “Each time I wished to shift I took my dangerous arm off the handlebar.”

By final January, she was driving a lot that she splurged on a pleasant street bike with modifications the place all the pieces could be managed from the left and she or he doesn’t have to maneuver her proper arm in any respect.

She’d additionally began working as a information for a motorbike touring firm after ending faculty. Though everybody rode the identical bikes in the course of the excursions, she at all times had a little bit spiel she supplied as to why she used a unique bike.

Final Could, one in every of her friends on a tour of Georgia and South Carolina got here out sporting a full Workforce USA equipment. Intrigued, she requested in regards to the connection. It turned out he was George Puskar, one of many members of the US Olympic Committee’s Paralympic Advisory Committee. They spent the subsequent week driving collectively, and a day after the journey ended, she received an e-mail from Ian Lawless, director of U.S. Paralympics Biking, inviting her to a expertise identification camp that was simply three weeks away.

“All of it occurred actually quick,” she stated. “I went to the expertise ID camp and I had no concept it was only a monitor emphasis. I’d by no means ridden monitor earlier than however there have been 4 of us and none of us had ridden monitor, so we had been all ranging from nothing. I beloved it and I used to be so excited by the chance to pursue this.”

In July, Lawless and Paralympic biking crew head coach Sarah Hammer reached out and invited Brown to return compete at a UCI World Cup in Canada. They made it clear she wasn’t on the crew, Brown stated, and she or he could be a self-funded impartial athlete, however they thought it might be an excellent probability to see how she may do and, most significantly, get categorised.

Not solely did Brown get categorised as a C3, she additionally got here in third within the street race and fourth within the time trial.

“That bronze medal is a prize possession now,” she stated.

Brown stated that the thought of competing once more and remaining in athletics stored her going all through her restoration and continues to inspire her as she re-enters a world final seen 10 years in the past. She credit her mother for getting her into rowing, the place a gaggle of masters athletes planted the seed for biking after which a school buddy helped it develop. Biking was at all times one thing she knew she wished to pursue competitively, she simply wasn’t positive how till she met Puskar.

“That was the good factor how coincidental it was,” she stated. “There are nearly 700 guides for this firm and I ended up being his. To me, that felt prefer it was an indication.”

Karen Value is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has coated Olympic sports activities for varied publications. She is a contract contributor to on behalf of Pink Line Editorial, Inc.

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