Every four years, the Olympic Games brings the top athletes from almost every country to one spot on the globe, where they compete in a dizzying number of events.

The level of competition is so high, it’s often the character of the athletes and not just their ability that makes the difference of who ends up with a medal.

Clara Brown has had a hip replacement and two surgeries on her left leg. She walks with a slight limp and has minimal use of her right hand. Now she’s shooting for Paralympic medals.  Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

And since 1989, another event follows the Olympics at the same site, drawing top competitors from all over the world. It’s the Paralympic Games.

The games bring thousands of competitors with a range of disabilities from 160 countries. This year the athletes will include 25-year-old Clara Brown, a Falmouth-born cyclist who will be competing in both track and road events.

Brown is a professional cyclist who competes in events open to able-bodied athletes as well as those limited to those with disabilities. She won four medals, two gold and two silver, at the 2020 paracycling track world championships. She is devoted to competitive cycling, even though it was not her first sport.

Brown was a 12-year-old gymnast in the upper echelon of her age group when she suffered a fluke accident at a gymnastics studio and broke vertebra in her neck, injuring her spinal cord.

It took years and multiple surgeries for her to regain any use of her arms and legs. Muscles are still damaged on the right side of her body, including her right hand, of which she has only partial use. She’s had two surgeries on her left leg, which is shorter than the right and no longer has a fibula.

The surgeries and intense physical therapy enabled Brown to get out of a wheelchair when she was 15, and she found a competitive outlet by serving as a coxswain on the Waynflete crew team.

While in college she took up cycling, using a bicycle that was adapted to her particular needs, such as brakes that she can operate with her left hand only. Brown walks with a limp, but her disability is invisible when she is riding.

She is hoping to come home with three medals, beginning with one in the 3,000-meter individual pursuit, which will begin at 9 p.m. Tuesday.

There is a reason that spectator sports have such a hold on our collective imagination. Athletic contests tell us not just who’s the strongest or the fastest, they also reveal character.

They show us who had the discipline to practice, who has a selfless commitment to their team or sport, who has the resilience to keep trying in the face of adversity.

They show us that it’s not always the most talented athlete who wins the gold – that sometimes it goes to the one who wouldn’t give up.

Just by making it to Tokyo, Brown has already shown what she’s made of. Now she’ll have a chance to show the world how much farther she can go.


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