This weekend, Charlotte Brown will compete in the Texas State High School Track & Field Championship. In one of the most competitive track environments in the nation, the junior star is seeded third in the pole vault and will run anchor for her school's 4X400 relay team. She vaulted to eighth place in last year's state meet.
She also happens to be completely blind.
Brown's story was featured earlier this week on an ESPN segment called "Spirit to Soar." It explained that Brown was born with limited vision, underwent dozens of surgeries throughout her childhood, and received introcular lens implants in the second grade. Over time her vision grew worse, until she lost it entirely last year.
Pole vaulting, meanwhile, is universally regarded as the most dangerous track & field event - reserved entirely for "daredevils." Since 1980, 20 athletes have died vaulting; 38 have suffered skull fractures; and 44 have sustained serious injuries, according to a report from the Daily Pennsylvanian. The biggest danger is missing the landing mat.
So even though she always excelled in track, Brown's parents were a little nervous when they heard she wanted to add pole vaulting to her repertoire. She just told them to step aside.
"At the end of the day, you just have to look fear in the face and smile... even if you can't see it," Charlotte explained.
So, with the help of her coach (Jeff Lester) and guide dog (Vador), Brown devised a system. Vador gets her to the start of the vault runway and Lester stands at the back of the pit, whistling, to provide orientation. She counts her steps and relies on a remote beeper system that tells her where and when to plant her pole.