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Blind Pole Vaulter Charlotte Brown: My Time To Win It All

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SC Featured: Spirit To Soar (10:54)

As her sight was dimming, Texas high school pole vaulter Charlotte Brown's determination grew. Despite being blind, she has qualified for the state championship. (10:54)

It still happens. Still catches a classmate by surprise and, in turn, Charlotte Brown as well.

"There was a girl who I have been in practically every single class with since seventh grade, when I used super-large-print textbooks, and through sophomore year, when I started using braille," she said. "She asked me for help and I showed her my work and she said, 'Why is it all in braille?' I was like, 'Because I'm blind.'

"And she said, 'I never knew that.'"

Brown, finishing up her senior year at Emory Rains High School in Emory, Texas -- where she became a nationally celebrated pole vaulter and runner as she competed with severely limited sight her first two years and as a blind competitor for the past two -- laughed good-naturedly.

"It was weird," she said. "I had people in athletics who didn't know I was blind until junior year and they were like, 'Why is this dog here?' And I said, 'It's a Seeing Eye dog.' And they said, 'Why do you have a Seeing Eye dog?' I guess they were living under a rock. I mean, we only have 40 kids in the program."

And only one who has her heart and mind set on defying the odds further by winning her first state title Saturday, when she competes in the Class 4A UIL state track and field meet.

"She's going down to win this thing," said Toby Howell, Brown's private pole vault coach.

"I second that motion," Brown said. "I made it [to state] my sophomore year, jumped 10 feet, 6 inches and finished eighth. Then junior year, I went 11 feet and tied for fourth. This is the third time I've been there, so it's time to win it all."

Brown, who has been invited by Purdue to try out as a walk-on next fall, also broke school records in the 400 meters (58.34 seconds, automatically timed) and as part of the mile relay this season, despite missing two weeks with her hand in a cast in late February and early March because of a weight-room mishap.

"Everyone knows she's a vaulter, but I wanted everyone to know she can run too," said Emory Rains coach Jeff Lester. "That was important to me."

Unfortunately for Brown and Lester, the senior won't get a chance to show off her 400-meter speed at states. She was disqualified in prelims in the regional meet for false starts. But that doesn't take away from her accomplishments this season.

"She was part of the mile relay that broke the school record by four seconds at 4:01.98, which I don't know if we'll ever see again," Lester said. "It has just been an awesome year."

Howell said he has seen improvement in Brown's overall "comfort level" since he began working with her last summer. As an example, Brown pointed out there were times this season when Lester, who normally stands at the back of the vault pit whistling to guide her to the middle of the bar and signaling for her to launch, was with his other athletes and not able to get to her jumps in time.

"Before, if Coach Lester was not there, I'd freak out or be nervous," she said. "But if he was busy and didn't get over there in time this season, I'd just use the three-step [approach]," which makes it simpler to time her jump.

In practice, Howell said, Brown has jumped 12 feet consistently without the bar and that her goal at states is 12-6.

"She doesn't see limitations," he said. "She has no limitations."

Lester said he is bringing his 9-year-old stepdaughter, Hallie, to the state meet to watch his inspirational athlete; Hallie is legally blind and idolizes Brown.

"As a vaulter and a runner, she just figures out a way to get it done," Lester said of Brown. "While most of the sighted world faced with her situation would say, 'I can't do it' and throw up their hands, she didn't accept it.

"What Charlotte has accomplished to this point, whether she wins a state championship or a world championship, she's already a champion, bottom line. Whatever happens next is just icing on the cake."