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Contact: Tim Woodhull

September 29, 2000


Student at California State University, Dominguez Hills Prepares to Leave for Paralympic Games in Sydney

Attending college in Carson, working in Pasadena, and living in Playa del Rey, Shawn Brown knows what it means to work hard. And, now he is especially busy, preparing for his second Paralympic Games. "Some people put on their glasses in the morning," he shrugged. "I pull on my leg."

Brown, 29, holds the Parlaympics world record in the discus throw, and leaves October 9 for Sydney as a member of the United States' team. The Paralympic Games include athletes who are disabled — paraplegics, tetraplegics, learning disabled, visually impaired, people with cerebral palsy, and amputees such as Brown, a student at California State University, Dominguez Hills in its Orthotics & Prosthetics bachelor of science program.

One of only seven such programs in the nation, Orthotics & Prosthetics at CSU Dominguez Hills teaches students to evaluate patients whose limbs are lost through illness or accident and help them restore their lives through artificial limbs or mechanical body supports.

His life experience in prosthetics began at age 21.

At the time, Brown studied by day as a college sophomore and toiled by night as a grain elevator worker in his hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana. He was working on the floor of the grain silo one October night when he accidentally stepped into a conveyor belt.

“One evening, working second shift… 'just made a wrong move in the work environment and found myself in the hospital with an amputation of my left leg,” says Brown with the matter-of-factness of a farmer discussing crops.

His mind recorded and replays the accident in virtual slow motion. He remembers the sheen of the halogen bulbs that glare off the slick grain dust, the chatter and laughter of co-workers over the drone of the whining machinery. Relaxed and cleaning up at the end of their shift, they are getting ready to leave. It is a workday like any other, but this time, as Brown reaches to put some tools away, he missteps into the clutches of the conveyor.

“It was instaneous. It had me. It was tugging. I remember the pain being intense…. It was a surreal type feeling. You're caught in it. I remember the other employees running by me and knocking the light away and now it's completely black… pitch black, pitch black…. I knew my leg was gone. I could feel my leg was gone.”

But all the time in the hospital, and in the all the time since, he's never felt sad, he says: “What's done is done.”

“It was about 'all she wrote,” Brown explains. “There was no 'multiple surgeries,' or, 'We're going to try to save it.' They didn't even find part of my foot until the next day.”

Perhaps his no-nonsense upbringing girded Brown's spirits. Maybe he drew on the strength of his family and friends who stayed by his side in the hospital — “I was never left alone my entire time there,” he recalls — but he accepted what happened with the grit one gets growing up on a farm: What is simply is. Things happen. Do the best with what you've got and then move on.

He never wonders “'what might have been' because I have done it,'” Brown says. “Did I ever wish I could play college football? I did play college football…There have been limitations, but there have always been ways around those limitations.”

That is the spirit of the Paralympic Games, started in 1951 by Sir Ludwig Guttman, director of a center for spinal injuries in England. He introduced sport to the patients as part of their therapy. The competition grew to include other clinics and, over time the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) was formed: The first Olympic Style games for athletes with a disability was held in Rome in 1960.

This year, the Paralympics in Sydney will mark Brown's second appearance at the games, and he plans to continue competing.

“I'll be a 'clear and present' danger for the next two or three Paralympics to come, I think,” he said with a wink. “I just know that the level of loss has not disabled my life… stride for stride, leg for leg.”

Further information can be obtained by contacting Tim Woodhull, director, Media Relations, (310) 243-3367, or Scott Hornsbeak, director, Orthotics & Prosthetics Program, (310) 243-2700.




Shawn Brown, a student in the Orthotics & Prosthetics bachelor of science program at CSU Dominguez Hills, brought home a gold medal in discus throw from the 2000 Paralympics Games in Sydney, Australia. This was the second Paralympic Games for Brown, who also won a discus gold medal and set a new world record in 1996. The Paralympic Games include athletes who are disabled - paraplegics, tetraplegics, learning disabled, visually impaired, people with cerebral palsy, and amputees such as Brown, who lost his lower left leg in an industrial accident while working in a silo in 1992. He also competed in the shot put contest, earning fifth place.