American sprinter David Brown is known as "the fastest completely blind athlete in history," having broken both the men's 100m and 200m T11 world records in 2014. His respective times of 10.92 and 22.41 from that year's Mt. SAC Relays still stand seven years later, as of the week leading up to the Tokyo Paralympics.
The 28-year-old is a Missouri native. He spent the first part of his childhood in Kansas City before moving to the opposite side of the state, St. Louis, around age 11. That's where the five-time world medalist attended – and graduated from in 2011 – the Missouri School of the Blind, discovering the gift of sprinting in physical education class.
Brown and his usual guide, three-time Paralympic medalist Jerome Avery, are referred to as "Team BrAvery." They sprint side-by-side in a double lane, bound by a tether, syncing strides and communicating by touch and sound.
The duo trains at the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center (CVEATC) near San Diego, where they are coached by Brazilian middle distance great Joaquim Cruz, the Olympic 800m gold medalist in 1984 and silver medalist in 1988.
Brown and Avery are the defending Paralympic 100m T11 champions from Rio. However, due to injury, Avery will not be joining Brown in Tokyo. Moray Steward will guide Brown in Tokyo instead.
Similar to how some Olympic sports categorize by sex or weight, Paralympic sports group athletes by disability.
This process is called classification — it helps ensure that competition is as fair and equal as possible so that winning is determined by skill, fitness, power, endurance, tactical ability and mental focus, rather than degree of disability. Each sport has a unique classification system, and classifications are sometimes adjusted over time.
Brown currently competes in the T11 classification, which is for athletes who have a vision impairment that allows them "very low visual acuity and/or no light perception," according to World Para Athletics rules.
In the classification system, the "T" stands for track, the first "1" for class and the second "1" for severity.
Brown began running at the age 5. He was diagnosed with Kawasaki disease at 15 months old, resulting in glaucoma which ultimately took his sight by the age of 13.
His family moved more than 200 miles from Kansas City to St. Louis where, as mentioned, he attended MSB. While there he wrestled and played goalball, a sport designed for those with a vision impairment, before focusing on track.
"In my first 50-yard dash I got second. I thought to myself, 'Hey I'm pretty fast,'" Brown told the IPC. "When my vision started fluctuating, sprinting was a great way to stay competitive against my friends, so I had a need for speed."
Brown's first competition was at the 2006 Colorado Rocky Mountain State Games, where in addition to wrestling he cleared 4'-6" in the high jump and leaped 14'-9" in the long jump, placing second in both.
He made his senior international debut at the 2011 Parapan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Brown enjoys playing music in his free time – the drums, piano and tenor saxophone – and was formerly in a jazz band, per Team USA. His favorite sport is basketball outside of track, favorite team is the Chicago Bulls and hobbies include listening to and making music, reading, writing poetry hanging out with friends and public speaking.
Global Championship Experience
▶ David Brown
Brown has captured one Paralympic medal in two appearances from 2012-2016: 100m gold in 2016.
- 2016 Rio: Gold, 100m T11 (w/ Avery); 6th/SFs, 200m T11; 8th/R1, 400m T11 (w/ Rhodes)
- 2012 London (w/ Slade): 6th/SFs, 100m T11; 8th/SFs, 200m T11; DNF/R1, 4x100m Relay T11-13
Brown has claimed five world championship medals – two gold, three silver – in four appearances from 2013-2019: in 2017, 100m gold and 200m silver; in 2015, 100m gold; and in 2013, 400m silver and 4x100m relay silver.
In 2019, 2017 and 2015, he was guided by Avery. In 2013, Slade assisted in the 200m, 400m and 4x100m.
- 2019 Dubai (w/ Avery): 6th/SFs, 100m T11
- 2017 London (w/ Avery): Gold, 100m T11; Silver, 200m T11; DNF/F, 4x100m Relay T11-13
- 2015 Doha (w/ Avery): Gold, 100m T11; 4th/F, 200m T11
- 2013 Lyon (w/ Slade): Silver, 400m T11; Silver, 4x100m T11-13; 4th/F, 200m T11
When the Olympic and Paralympic training centers were forced to close in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic onset, Brown and Avery said they were apart for the longest they had ever been – two to three months – over their now seven-year partnership. Upon reuniting, the pair, normally tethered together, had to learn to train while socially distant.
They opted to use tactics already employed pre-pandemic to maintain their fitness together: sometimes Avery runs a few feet in front of Brown, yelling directions; other times, Avery stands at the finish and claps to guide Brown.
Brown had a positive outlook immediately upon the Games being postponed, saying it was just "a little bit more time for us to prepare." Avery said that as soon as the postponement was announced, Brown said, "Coach, when is practice?"
As mentioned, Brown is known as the "fastest blind man in the world." His 10.92 from 2014 Mt. SAC Relays broke the men's 100m world record in the T11 classification, making him the first totally blind athlete to run under 11 seconds. Running beside Avery, Brown's time beat the next competitor by just about three-quarters of a second.
But that wasn't his only feat accomplished at the meet. Earlier, Brown ran 22.44 to break the 200m T11 world record, besting the next sprinter in the race by nearly a second. Both records still stand as of mid-August 2021.
Brown and Avery clocked 10.89 during the 100m semifinals at the 2015 World Championships in Doha, Qatar, but the wind was an illegal, 2.8 meters-per-second tailwind. They went on to win gold in the event's final.
In their first race together, at an open meet, for which the pair had a week to prepare, they ran a personal best and a U.S. record. It was a result Brown jokingly referred to as an "eye-opener" and an indicator that sub-11 seconds was possible.
Brown says he was inspired to compete at the Paralympics after winning an essay contest to attend the 2008 Beijing Paralympics. The prompt was to reflect on himself as an emerging athlete.
He earned one of 25 slots, and while in the stadium as a fan he watched multiple finals, one of which included his future guide Avery who was serving as a guide runner in the competition.
It would be another six years until they would start training together.
Prior to their first Paralympics together in Rio, they were both on the London Games 4x100m relay T11-13 team that didn't finish in the first round – Brown running with assistance from Slade, and Avery guiding Jamison.
Family and Inspiration
Brown is the son of Francine Brown and has one older sister named Brean.
His idol is Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt.
Brown says his heroes are his mom, grandpa and coach Cruz. He carries the motto of “Running4HISGlory+."
As for the biggest obstacles they've overcome thus far, Brown says it's his own limits and abilities as well as close competitors.
NBC Olympics Research contributed to this report