Mark Brown of Gibraltar (© Mark Butler)
Mark Brown of Gibraltar may well finish more than 10 minutes behind the winner in Debrecen, but his appearance at the first IAAF World Road Running Championships will be just as notable as the victor, because he will become the first athlete with a disability to compete at an event of this level.
British-born Brown, 44, lost his left arm after a traffic accident in Shropshire 25 years ago. He was a Private in the Queens Lancashire Regiment of the British Army at the time.
“It was just one of those things,” he reflected. “I’ve pretty much moved on.”
That is an understatement, because though he was a keen cyclist and soccer player before his accident, he is now a runner of the highest world class within his classification of disability, which is known officially as T46 Amputee.
Brown took a silver medal at the 2000 Paralympic Marathon, won at the 2003 European Championships 5000m and placed fifth over that distance at the Athens Paralympics with his personal best of 15:21.56. Those performances were all in a British vest, but having now gained Gibraltarian eligibility through residency, he will be competing for that territory in Hungary against the best in the world. He is a serious athlete, training twice a day and running up to 80 miles per week. In 2004 he competed in a marathon at the base of Mount Everest, part of a charity effort which raised a total of more than $50,000.
He clocked a personal best of 2:32:00 in the 2000 London Marathon, and his half marathon best is 70:30, which would have beaten 16 of the able-bodied finishers at the 2005 Worlds in Edmonton. He’s hoping for a few scalps here in Debrecen.
“I want to put on a good show,” he explained. “My own realistic aim is not to finish last, and not to let down the people of Gibraltar who have supported me so much since 2002.”
That was the year he left his native Burnley to live with his brother Steven on the “Rock”. Husband of Janet and father of two grown-up daughters Samantha and Claire, Brown now works for the Government of Gibraltar as a Mental Health nurse. His coach for four years has been fellow Gibraltarian Hector Romero.
“This is the pinnacle of my career,” admitted Brown, who benefited from British Lottery funding before his transfer.
“I’ll have to be careful not to get carried away and I’ll be calling on all my experience. For me to be a disabled athlete at an IAAF event is a testimony to my efforts over the years. At the end of the day I’ll do my best and hope that will be good enough. I hope this says to other athletes out there, ‘don’t worry about your disability, do your best, let your inspiration take you forward.’ Athletics opens up so many doors, I wouldn’t even be here if it wasn’t for my disability.”
Mark Butler for the IAAF