It’s been a long journey for Erin “Bionic” Brown, but now, there’s some light at the end of the tunnel as she seeks to become the first Bahamian to compete in the paratriathlon at the Paralympic Games – a periodic series of international multi-sport events involving athletes with a range of disabilities. There has been local representation at the Paralympics before, but not in the paratriathlon.
Brown, an amputee of 15 years and a single mother of two, has obtained her bike, has put in the work, and is now prepared for the road to 2020. The 2020 Summer Paralympics, the 16th version, is set for August 25, to September 6, 2020, in Tokyo, Japan – about two weeks after the completion of the Olympics. The Paralympics is governed by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC).
Brown, 38, will leave on Monday for a two-week training session in Colorado Springs, Colorado. On her return, she intends to oversee the soft launch of the proposed Bahamas Paralympic Committee (BPC), which will be used as an avenue into the Paralympics for herself and, in the future, for other Bahamian athletes with disabilities.
“We’re working under the theme ‘Sports Changes Everything’, and it’s for all athletes with disabilities – the blind, deaf, visually impaired, hearing impaired, limb loss, wheelchair, spinal and others. It also includes Special Olympic athletes,” said Brown, who is currently the only Bahamian on the International Paralympic Committee athlete listing vying for qualification for the 2020 Paralympics. “My goal is to be the representation that my community needs. I have always been an athlete, but bone cancer led to the amputation of my left leg when I was transitioning from my junior year to my senior leg in college.
“I don’t take any of this that I’m doing lightly. It’s a purpose-filled journey for me. The biggest adjustment for me has been working through the stereotype. I live in an ableist structure. The infrastructure of society is built for non-disabled persons. Persons living with disabilities are not an inclusive thought. It’s more of a prejudice or discrimination against persons with disabilities. That has been the hardest adjustment for me.”
Brown said that she won’t allow the challenges that she has faced so far to hinder her progress in terms of representing The Bahamas at the 2020 Paralympics – the first representation for The Bahamas at that event since 1988.
“People just don’t believe in it. They don’t see the investment opportunities that exist,” she said. “I’ve gotten some private help from individuals, but there hasn’t been any government and corporate support. People want to usually come on board after you would have experienced success. There are international sponsors out there, but I want to heighten the significance locally. Also, being able to access facilities has been a challenge. I’ve been told that I am just one person on this journey, so why should there be an investment. I’ve received setbacks to use sporting facilities. My goal is to draw attention to these challenges and get Corporate Bahamas to come on board.”
Brown said that she is prepared to compete under the name of her company, Erin Brown Connects, if necessary, but she knows that it is also beneficial to represent one’s country at that level and obtain support.
“I just want the local powers that be to know and understand that there are endless possibilities that exist through sponsorship of disabilities in this country,” said Brown. “In our current sports climate, we are entering a new dawn of adaptive athletes across the globe, and there are a number of Bahamians out there who could be extraordinary Paralympic athletes. If you’re interested in investing in our nation, try disability in sports and the Paralympics. Sports is a palatable way to introduce disability inclusion. Hopefully, I could get the sponsors to come on board.”
Brown has until June 2020 to qualify for the Paralympics. There is an avenue where she could receive a special exemption with her being the only one athlete from The Bahamas on the international list, but she wants to qualify outright. To do so, she has to be in the top 10 in her category worldwide and she can only achieve that by competing in an IPC-sanctioned event. She has been invited to train in the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center Velodrome this month, where she will reside with Olympians and Paralympians from around the world.
“This training camp that I’m going to is top-notch,” she said. “Each discipline of the paratriathlon has training sessions and camps – they invite athletes to live on the site and train. My goal is to get to the top 10 in the world in my category or as close as possible. Also, I need gear. That has been a challenge for me as well – to get Team Bahamas gear from the triathlon association over here. I just need assistance. Like I said, there is funding from international sources as well, but they are supporting so that national sponsors could come on board.”
Brown said that it was through international grants that she was able to obtain a bicycle for the paratriathlon. It’s been over 30 years since The Bahamas was represented at the Paralympics. John Sands was the inaugural competitor for The Bahamas, in the wheelchair sprint, in 1972, and there was representation at each Paralympics for The Bahamas until 1988. To date, Sands and Christine Morgan are the only medalists for The Bahamas at the Paralympics. Brown said that they will honor those Paralympic athletes at the soft opening of the Bahamas Paralympic Committee this year.
“There has been an application made to the International Paralympic Committee in Germany. They will in turn send the documentation that is needed. They are holding their general assembly in November, and at that time, there should be some clarification as to what decision will be made. We’re looking for it to be ratified in November, and then we could start training coaches and build membership by January,” said Brown.
Grand Bahama native, Brown attended West Virginia State University and is a disability advocate and inclusion consultant who received an above-the-knee amputation as a result of bone cancer 15 years ago. She also does motivational speaking, and volunteer and community work. After receiving a prosthetic leg, she went on to compete in Marathon Bahamas, Ride for Hope and the University of the West Indies (UWI) Triathlon.
“I’m not offended when people refer to me as disabled. I am a disabled person, and a mother and an entrepreneur,” she said. “I didn’t have a problem with losing the leg. It was a matter of life or leg, so that was not a difficult process for me. Leg over life was my mindset. Everything that you go through in this life prepares you for where you are headed. Surviving stage four bone cancer is an absolute gift.”
The paratriathlon debuted at the Paralympics in 2016. Brown is The Bahamas’ first paratriathlete and is vying for a spot at the 2020 Summer Paralympics. She is leading the way to increase and support Paralympic development in The Bahamas. Her passion is to pave the way for other adaptive athletes to have opportunities to train and compete in a supported space with adaptive equipment. Her company is a disability advocacy and inclusion management firm with a mission to increase representation of individuals living with disabilities.