Blind Determination Keeps Teen Winning


Charlotte Brown’s trophy case in her bedroom includes many medals and one new award that the school initiated last year for the student-athlete who demonstrates the best “fighting” qualities. It’s named the Fighting Heart award. There’s also a medal for academic achievement — all A’s


As a freshman, Charlotte Brown ran varsity track, competing in the 100 and 400 meters, the third leg on the mile relay, and both the high jump and pole vault; her best vault of nine feet, six inches is a school record.

She also ran cross country and played on the freshman volleyball and basketball teams while ranking fourth in her class academically at Emory Rains High School.

All of that is something to be proud of; there’s at least one girl in just about every school who is that accomplished.

But it’s a safe bet that Charlotte is the only one who’s blind.

As in almost off-the-charts blind. Like 20/-400 — that’s minus 400, and that’s the corrected vision with a contact lens and special goggles — in her right eye while her other eye can only tell the difference between light and dark. Seeing through her good eye is like looking through a coffee stirrer, she said, where everything is dark or light without any depth perception at all.

“The left eye is just there for decoration,” she said.

She compensates; “I figure out different ways to make things work.”

In her classrooms, Charlotte uses a special camera that projects words onto a large TV screen to make them big enough for her to read.

In cross country, a couple of her teammates wear small brass bells on their uniforms so she can hear them and know where they are.

For the pole vault, she counts 14 steps as she runs and keeps her body aligned so that she will know where to “plant” the pole to launch herself into the air and across the bar without knocking it down, then lands on her back.

On the freshman basketball team, the 5-foot-7 Charlotte played point guard, with her highest-scoring game being 12 points.

“My teammates will call my name when they pass the ball, so I know it’s coming. That’s good,” she said. “I always guard the person on top, coming down the floor with the ball. I listen when they cross over (midcourt) and go to steal it.”

From time to time, that leads to a hard foul because somebody else is between her and the ball, leading to an unexpected collision.

“Things get kinda crazy,” she said, smiling.

And precise.

“Her world is mathematics, and problem solving,” her mom, Stori, said. “She’s pretty incredible about compensating.

“When she’s dribbling the basketball down the court and goes in to make a beautiful layup, how does she do that? It’s very mathematical to her. She can’t see the net and she can’t see the backboard, but she sees the darkness of the suspension pole that holds the backboard up, and she knows right where the net is underneath it.

“She practices so hard because consistency is so incredibly important for her,” Stori said. “She often stays after practice, and practices dribbling and free throws.”

During the summer, she practices the pole vault and sprint starts. With a new vault pole, she’s already up to 10 feet, six inches — a foot higher than her school record — in practice.

Charlotte had cataract surgery at four months old, and her sight went from bad to worse and back and forth for a while, but has stabilized for the past two years. She had cataracts removed as a young child and got artificial lenses in second grade that worked well until her sight began to decline again in sixth grade. The diagnosis is “undefined visual loss,” and the hopeful prognosis is that her vision, such as it is, won’t deteriorate further.

The Browns and their circle of friends are important to Charlotte’s successes. Her mom teaches biology at the high school and her dad, Ian, is in healthcare sales.

“They’ve never said I couldn’t do it,” she said. “My teachers have all been supportive.”

“She is a pretty amazing kid,” Ian said. “She has tremendous adaptation skills, and we’ve never been the kind of family that wrings its hands. That’s not in our family DNA. We never say we can’t. Nothing is impossible; sometimes we just have to find a different way to do it.”

“She has been competitive since the moment she began crawling,” Stori said. “She does not like to lose, and she wants to always feel that she’s done her very best. Part of that is having two older brothers.”

Lachlan, a senior, plays basketball and runs track. Gannon, a junior, runs track, throws the discus, and is a power lifter.

“They really never give her a break growing up,” Stori said. “They play hard and are very athletic and competitive. They all compete against each other and cheer each other on.”

Charlotte turned 15 on May 29, and returns to Emory Rains High School as a sophomore on August 27, with some definite goals in mind.

“I hope to go to state in the pole vault and high jump, and I’d love to go to the Texas Relays in the mile relay again. That was a lot of fun. I’d love to go back to regionals for cross country, and I definitely hope to break the school record in the pole vault. And I would like to make all-A honor roll again.”

She ranked fourth in the freshman class academically and, her mother said, laughing, “she’s going to want to improve that by three people.”

Charlotte doesn’t have a favorite joke, she said, but she’s got a stock answer for people who ask her if there’s anything she can’t do.

“I say it’s nearly impossible to find Waldo in those little books,” she said, “especially if there are 500 people in the picture and he’s the only one wearing glasses. Sometimes I question if he’s really in there. I try, but sometimes there’s no way for me to find Waldo.”

Beyond that, Charlotte plans to go to college — Rice and Stanford are at the top of her wish list — to become a pediatric physician, perhaps, or a special education teacher.

The sky does seem to be the limit for Charlotte. Already this summer, she’s added a foot to her school-record pole vault. And that may be the least of her accomplishments. N

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