Come meet CJ BrownJanuary 23, 2022
By Kimberly Corrigan
When you chat with CJ Brown, he exudes a warm confidence that immediately puts you at ease. A mentor and leader and competitor with a focus on adaptive sports, Brown has been an athlete his whole life. A constant jokester, Brown is also always looking at the bright side and moving forward.
A top competitive high school wrestler, Brown placed 3rd in both State and National Championships in 2001. The following year he won the most pins and wins on his team.
“I loved wrestling because it taught me discipline, gave me confidence and challenged my body and mind,” he said.
Following his lifelong dream of becoming a homebuilder, Brown worked for five years in the construction industry and became a foreman for custom, high-end homes in Washington State. In 2008 he fell 23 feet off a roof and broke his neck, becoming a C6 quadriplegic.
“When I had my accident, they put me to sleep to have the surgery. I was joking immediately upon coming out of it, I saw my mom and the first thing out of my mouth was, ‘How about those Giants!?’ We had just beaten an undefeated Patriots team,” Brown says.
Yet Brown himself remains undefeated. “It was like learning a whole new adventure,” he said.
Brown started going to outpatient therapy three times a week and noticed there was also an open gym for people with spinal cord injuries. “I kept working and working and getting all the training I could while relating to other folks who were injured. One day a guy named Brad Shramal asked if I had ever heard of murderball,” Brown said. “Before I knew it, I was in Mark Zupan’s chair, still with my neck collar on,” he laughed.
Mark Zupan was captain of the United States wheelchair rugby team which competed in the Paralympic Games in 2004. He is well known for his appearance in the 2005 documentary film Murderball. He was also part of the 2008 United States gold winning team at the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games.
“His backrest was too low for me so I’m falling backward over his backrest doing this backstroke swim trying to pull myself up and I thought, ’I want to do this! How do I do this?’” Brown said.
“Rugby provided the athletic challenge and competitiveness I always craved. Therapy can teach you a lot of things, but Rugby connected me to others who shared a similar experience and they taught me strategies for adapting to the challenges of everyday life. Through Rugby I’ve learned five different ways to get off the ground. Rugby gave me the confidence in life knowing that I could overcome any obstacle and adapt in ways I never thought were possible.” Brown said.
At the same time, Brown joined wheelchair basketball so he could spend more time practicing skills in his chair. After a year, he was on the USA wheelchair rugby development team and by 2014 was on Team USA competing at the national level in both wheelchair rugby and basketball. The sport has allowed him to travel all over the world and earn many awards and titles.
Eager to share what he learned with others, an occupational therapist encouraged Brown to go to Haiti to show children with spinal cord injuries a new way of life. “It was fun,” Brown said, “One of the most exciting experiences I’ve done for someone else. I spent a week. At first none of the children wanted to get out of bed. By day 3 and 4, everyone with a spinal cord injury was at least outside hanging out in the sun.”
He added “I had never used a manual can opener. One of the patients was sitting outside and asked me to help feed him. I showed him how I learned to hold my fork and it inspired me to use the manual can opener. Spaghetti O’s went everywhere,” Brown laughed. “Things may get messy, but it’s dually inspiring to see people less fortunate or with less function do more than me. It helps me to push myself harder. You can’t set a limit to yourself, when you do, you’re going to hit a wall.” Brown said.
And walls he continues to tear down as Brown is now an avid hand cyclist. “Getting outside on the bike and exploring with family has been a fun way to get out and be active during the pandemic. I am optimistic about future possibilities and hoping to one day to compete in the sport.” Brown said.
Recently the CAF (Challenged Athletes Foundation) upgraded their grant to Brown and he now has enough money, including the $2,000 grant from the GoHawkeye Foundation, to purchase the handcycle! Now Brown can fulfill his dream of even more adventures, where he can join the rest of his family in exploring the trails, beaches, mountains, and fishing spots he is unable to get to in his wheelchair.
“Adaptive sports have opened up so many opportunities and possibilities in my life and I am passionate about what I’ve learned with other people with disabilities. I would love to become involved with promoting the sport of handcycling and am eager to get back to volunteering,” Brown said.
We all know it’s not what happens to us, but how we react. And CJ Brown is a shining example of what good can come with the right positive mental attitude applied.
Join us at the upcoming GoHawkeye Foundation Pirate Party Fundraiser in partnership with the Telluride Distilling Company’s Tasting Room in Mountain Village Thursday, February 10th from 6-10 PM.
THIS NEWS JUST IN!
The Pirate Party Fundraiser has been cancelled due to Covid health concerns. INSTEAD, come out and meet CJ when he visits Telluride and tries bi-skiing for the first time! This ski and greet get together will be held on Thursday February 10, 2022 at 10am. Meet at the base of lift 4 and join GoHawkeye and CJ for a few runs on the mountain!