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Hometown Hopefuls: David Brown talks faith, Paris 2024 goals, and his new passion

Brown pushing toward fourth Paralympics in Paris
David Brown looks ahead to Paris 2024, which would be his fourth Paralympic Games, something he describes as "crazy to think about," before reflecting on his "mind-blowing" and "humbling" experiences prior.

Throughout the summer, in a series called Hometown Hopefuls, NBC is spotlighting the stories of Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls from all fifty states, as well as Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, as they work towards the opportunity to represent their country at the Paris 2024 Games next year. We’ll learn about their paths to their sports’ biggest stage, and the towns and communities that have been formative along the way. Visit for more stories from across America as these Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls prepare for Paris in summer 2024.

At one point in time, the Paralympics were merely a dream for Kansas City, Missouri native David Brown, who attended the 2008 Beijing Games as a fan, after winning an essay contest. Now, 15 years later, Brown hopes to qualify for his fourth Paralympic Games—one that he says will be his last as a para track and field athlete as he looks to make the transition to blind soccer.

In a conversation with NBC Sports, Brown reflects on his Paralympic journey, his plan to return to the 400m if he qualifies for Paris 2024, and his newfound love for blind soccer.

Brown, who was diagnosed with Kawasaki disease at 15 months old and gradually lost his sight by the age of the 13, also gets candid about the suicidal thoughts and depression he wrestled with during that time and how he’s been able to use those experiences to be a positive influence for the next generation.

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity. It contains some discussion of depression and suicide that may be difficult for some readers, and reader discretion is advised.

If you qualify for Paris 2024, this will be your fourth Paralympic Games – what does that mean to you?

David Brown: It’s crazy to think about. I always think back to when I was a spectator in the stands in Beijing, China, thinking “Man, I want to do that.” Now here we are, four Games later.

Before we look ahead, I want to take a walk down memory lane with you. I’m going to give you an event and I want you to give me one word to describe your experience and why. Starting with London 2012:

Brown: Mind-blowing. London knows how to put on events for sure, and they’re very educated about disabilities. The stands were filled. The crowd was spectacular and crazy in a good way. It was super loud, especially for their own hometown athletes. It was mind-blowing for me because four years prior, I was just a spectator and I had no idea I was going to even be there. It was just a hope and a dream at that point and then now here’s reality coming into play.

Rio 2016.

Brown: Humbling, because it was humbling to win the 100m gold medal. I had no idea that I was going to win at all. I always believed in the possibility of me winning. I set myself up to win. But when you step on the starting line in any competition, you never know what could go right or what can go wrong. All I can do is just get out there and execute. I went out there and I gave everything that I could and it turned out to be successful.

It was very humbling for me to win—something that I couldn’t even comprehend afterwards. I remember calling my friends and my family who didn’t get to see the race and telling them I won and they were surprised by my reaction. They were like you don’t sound like you’re excited about it and I don’t even know if [at that point] it really hit me yet.


US’ David Brown (L) reacts with his guide Jerome Avery after winning the men’s 100 m (T11) of the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games at the Olympic stadium in Rio de Janeiro on September 11, 2016. / AFP / YASUYOSHI CHIBA (Photo credit should read YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP via Getty Images)

AFP via Getty Images

What about the Tokyo Games?

Brown: It was a blessing honestly. Everybody the year prior was dealing with the pandemic. During that period of time, I was able to take a step back and find myself and build on top of that going into the 2021 season. I was separated from my guide and I had to figure out how to be able to train and I found and discovered myself as an athlete.

As a blind and visually impaired athlete, sometimes you may develop your guide’s style of running. I didn’t understand who I was as an athlete without a guide. I didn’t know how to run or sprint as efficiently as I could. I was always getting pulled this way or that way. I didn’t have control over my race, technique and form.

2021 started off very chaotic because I went six months without my guide who ended up getting injured. I had to train with new guides and then going into the Tokyo Games, really even Tokyo Trials, I wasn’t even fully prepared to be in medal position. The fact that I made that team was a blessing. I was very scared and nervous and very unsure about how that whole year was going to turn out. I was just grateful and blessed to be there.

You’ve made a lot of changes to your life since Tokyo. You got married and picked up a new sport. Can you talk about some of those changes?

Brown: When I got back to the U.S. after Tokyo, I jumped on a phone call with the program director [at that time] for blind soccer to see how I could get involved with the program as they were developing it here in the United States. He invited me to a clinic they were having in Columbus, Ohio, in November, and with me not knowing anything about blind soccer, let alone soccer, I started to cram.

I had to get equipment, learn how to dribble a soccer ball, and I didn’t even have proper shoes—I was playing in marathon shoes. But honestly, as soon as I stepped on the field, I fell in love with that sport. I was invited to be a USA blind soccer ambassador and I actually made the national team back in October [2022]. I just got my jersey officially in March; I wear the number 3. It’s very humbling because I’m able to represent the country in track and field and also in the sport of blind soccer. Next year, I am planning on retiring after Paris from the sport of track and field and I’m going to be a full-time blind soccer player.

David and Rebekah Brown.JPG


My wife Rebekah and I, who [I] married in September of that year—just 2 weeks after Tokyo—we started and launched our own business, Team DR Brown, which is all about faith, fun, fitness and food.

One of the things that got me in great shape, especially during the pandemic, was jump rope fitness. I would do it for hours at a time, at least six days a week. I mastered my own style of jump roping and got certified through Buddy Lee‘s (a U.S. wrestler who competed at the 1992 Games) program. My wife and I developed a course called Jump Rope Mastery to boost athletic abilities and we’ve been building on top of that since 2021.

How would you say that those new skills and athletic abilities that you’ve had to learn with blind soccer and jump roping translate onto the track?

Brown: Track plays into blind soccer, blind soccer plays into track, jump rope plays into everything. They all just feed into each other. Jump roping gives you the agility, the low impact training, balance, dynamic trunk control, endurance, stamina, and more. I actually put together a detailed PDF of what jump rope fitness helps with.

As a blind and visually impaired athlete, I run with a guide and they’re constantly tugging on me since my left side is tethered to the individual all the time. Soccer has helped me develop my lateral shifting and crossing steps, which helps me navigate my body better. I’ve learned to fine-tune my form and still be able to run fast.

In Paris, you hope to qualify for the 100m and 400m. You haven’t competed in the 400m since 2013. Why did you decide to switch? What has the switch looked like in training?

Brown: At one point in time, I didn’t have the resources to be able to train and run an efficient 400. There are not a lot of guides out there in blind athletics that can help in the sport of sprinting and this is something that needs to be talked about. I’m not saying that I haven’t had guides before in the 400. I am grateful for every guide that I’ve had. But there’s a lot that goes into what we do. Their capabilities and what we need from them are important. Can they match speed? Are they in shape? Are they able to efficiently do their job and train on top of that? Competition is the easy part. A lot of athletes can’t keep up with our training.

Since 2013, I’ve had some success in the 400 but keeping up that level of training wasn’t optimal or possible at that time so my coach told me to capitalize on my 100m sprinting to see what we could do. From 2014 to 2021, I only had resources and a guide to be able to run the 100m. Now, do I like the 100 meters? Honestly, I don’t. I preferred to run the 400m. Making that switch for me, although it was humbling and I’ve had a lot of success [in the 100m] and got a gold medal, was a bittersweet thing for me.

In the 400, you have not only the time to be able to build up speed and get into your form, but you have to have guts at the end of the race. The last 100m when everybody is dying, its about who is going to die the least. That race is for me. I like to grind. In the 100 it’s so short and you have to be spot on from start to finish and that wasn’t me.

After Tokyo, I asked my coach if I could switch and get a new guide for the 400. We ended up bringing in Je’Von Hutchinson as a guide, who has been a huge benefit. He is a first-time guide. He was an 800m runner and a very good and fast 400m runner. More importantly, he understands training. We’re building off of each other. I’m learning how to pace better and he’s learning how to start faster and get out more aggressive so it’s been a great journey so far.

David Brown and Je'Von Hutchison


David Brown and guide Je'Von Hutchison


Switching gears – I want to talk about your personal experience with vision loss. So many people already know your story. You were diagnosed with Kawasaki disease which led to glaucoma in both eyes. I can’t imagine how difficult losing your eyesight is in any circumstance but you started to lose your eyesight gradually. How did you handle it? Were you ever in denial at any point?

Brown: I was in denial until I was about 17 or 18 years old. My vision started decreasing when I was 6 and the way I handled it wasn’t good. I’m not trying to talk bad about my family and my upbringing, but the upbringing and the family that I have, was very toxic back then. Things have since changed but in that moment it was toxic.

I was in a religion that emphasized miracles, signs and wonders. At 6 years old, when I’m starting to lose my sight, I was being told every stinking time that I have a spirit of infirmity and [having people] try to cast demons out of me. I was getting told and even believing myself wholeheartedly, with all faith, that my sight was going to come back in one way or another. That played into some of my denial but it also played into a lot of my fears and a lot of my actions that I took in regards to playing sports. At one point, I was a T-13 athlete in the highest class and able to run without a guide. All of a sudden, I’m a T-12, my vision has gotten worse, and I know for a fact it’s getting harder for me to see on the track where I’m going, but I’m afraid and in denial.*

I had to ask myself, ‘do you feel like you will have a better chance of becoming a better athlete in the the classification that you’re in or the classification that you’re going to?’ Because you have to set yourself up for success and at least give it a shot.

I knew if I was going to have a shot at getting to the London Games, I would have to accept the fact that my sight is possibly not coming back. If God’s will is for me to be the way that I am, than may he be glorified. I decided to just throw myself into this and embrace [my vision loss].

When I actually got an invite to live and train out here at the [USOPC] training center, to force myself to not use my eyes anymore, I would walk around with eye coverings on and not use my cane just so I could get in tune with my surroundings and not rely on my sight. I knew that if I was going to have any chance at being the legend that I wanted to become, I had to embrace what was going on.

*Editor’s Note: In the same way that some Olympic sports group athletes 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. David 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.

You went through so many challenges. I read that you dealt with bullying and even a fear of going outside to play as a kid. Can you talk about some of the challenges you faced?

Brown: Kids are going to be kids, right? Parts of it wasn’t bullying, parts of it were genuine questions. I didn’t always have a prosthetic eye in my left eye, like I do now. If you were to take out my prosthetic, I would just have a hole right there because my eye shrunk into its socket. Kids would ask me what was wrong with my eye and I would just start crying because I didn’t have the answer.

Part of it was family members not really giving me the answer either or just saying don’t worry about it, it will come back. The other part of it was kids just wanting to be mean.

As far as being afraid to go outside, honestly, I was afraid of a lot of different things. I was super light sensitive so the sun would hurt my eyes very much, especially when they were dilated. I couldn’t see squat. Everything was so blurry. I was afraid to go outside. I was afraid of the dark because I was afraid of not only what I could see, but what I couldn’t see. I couldn’t see in the dark. I was afraid of moving around. I just wanted to stay in bed.

Brown addresses struggle for acceptance
David Brown discusses pulling himself out of a dark time while he was searching for answers and struggling for guidance without knowing how to explain what he was going through and without a positive mentor.

David, when you were 13 years old, there was a point that you didn’t want to live anymore. If you’re comfortable talking about it, what led you to that point? What do you remember feeling?

Brown: A lot of the things that I shared with you led me to that point. The bullying, what was happening within the faith that I was raised in, transitioning to a new school. Going from elementary school to middle school, I went to the Missouri School for the Blind. I thought I was going to a school where other kids could relate but I was getting the same kind of treatment that I was getting back in elementary school. I had family issues going on and was being more introduced to having this “spirit of infirmity” mindset and having things “cast out of me” and I just wasn’t feeling accepted anywhere.

A lot of people will turn and ask God, why did you make me this way? But I never looked at God as the issue. I thought I was the problem and the reason behind all of this stuff going on in my every day life. I thought I was bringing it all on myself. I was just taking on a lot of crap and it did get to that point where I felt that wherever I turned, and whoever I turned to, I just couldn’t receive any kind of answers. I couldn’t receive any kind of legit help. I didn’t know how to explain what I was dealing with and what I was going through.

It’s crazy when I think about this now, because my wife and I are studying and training to become Biblical counselors, and part of that is me wanting to be help and a light to those people that have the same kind of issues that I had back then. I didn’t have a mentor. I didn’t have any positive influence in my life, at that point in time. I just felt so alone. It got to that point, but by the grace of God, that got turned around. I don’t want to get too graphic, but there was a [suicide] attempt. I got pulled out of it and that was just by God’s grace, because there was nobody else at home.

If you could go back to 13-year-old David on that day, what would you say to yourself?

Brown: Honestly, it’s going to get better. It’s all for a purpose. Just trust in the process and just continue to trust in God, 100 percent. I wouldn’t change anything that I’ve gone through. I’ve been through a lot but it’s shaped me into who I am now. I would not have the faith, the confidence, or the mindset that I do. The way that I comprehend, think, and even my grasp on different things—I wouldn’t even have those if I didn’t go through all those things that I have gone through.

I would tell myself to stick with the process. It’s going to be hard. The storm is going to continue to rise. I wouldn’t say it will end because we’re all going to have trials in life, but at the end of the day you’re going to get through that depression. That’s the biggest thing.

David, thank you for sharing that. Not only do you get to represent your faith and that powerful message on the track, but you also get to represent Missouri. Why is Missouri so special and what makes it feel like home?

Brown: There’s so much to it. There’s a lot of history to it and it’s the place where I was born and raised. I lived in Kansas City for about 10 to 11 years. I lived in St. Louis for the same amount of time. Now, I’m out here in California where it’s been 11 years already, but the things I learned in Missouri helped raise me and set a foundation for me to be an independent, blind individual. A lot of blind individuals are paired and they need help. For me to be an independent, all of that stuff I learned in Missouri through elementary school—the teachers that helped set that foundation—had a huge impact on me. Missouri is where I got involved with sports. It’s where I was introduced to adaptive sports. That period launched me into where I am now.

It feels like home because all of [my] family is there. My mom, my nephews, my sister, and some of my friends that I grew up with are still there. Being able to get back and see them... it just feels like home.

What is it that makes the Paralympic movement so special and why should people watch para sports?

Brown: Not only are we dealing with having to live life as somebody that is disabled, we also have to work nine-to-five jobs and then go and train for our respective sports right afterwards. We have to adapt to sports and honestly a lot of them weren’t even made for us. But we freaking figured it out. I mean, blind soccer, who’s heard of that?

We’re making these adaptations to a reality that wasn’t built to accept us and what makes it special is the fact that we’re doing things that people never even thought was possible. That’s why people should watch. We’re tremendous athletes.