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Para-cyclist from Maine prepares for Tokyo games

25-year-old Clara Brown of Falmouth will race in four events in Tokyo: the 16 km and 39 km road races, and the 3 km and 500-meter track races.
Credit: NEWS CENTER Maine

FALMOUTH, Maine — The Paralympics Games will kick off on August 24 in Tokyo, Japan. 

Right now, a cyclist from Falmouth, Maine, is preparing to race in four paralympic events. Clara Brown will compete in two road races and two track races: the 16k timed trial and 39k race on the road and the 3k and 500m on the track. 

Brown dreamed of competing in the Olympics at a young age, and she never lost hope, even when doctors told her she'd never walk again. 

"I grew up quite an athletic kid and gravitated towards gymnastics at a young age and had kind of a fluke accident at practice when I was 12," Brown said. 

After a fall on her head in a gymnastics class, Brown broke two vertebrae in her neck and damaged her spinal cord. 

"I was paralyzed from the neck down and was told I'd never walk again," she said. 

However, defiant, the 12-year-old refused to accept her prognosis. 

"I just didn't want to believe what the doctors were telling me. I felt like I knew my body better than they did and how dare they tell me I wouldn't be able to walk again," Brown said. 

After years dedicated to recovery, Brown was walking again and was learning to get active in new ways.

"I'm very grateful that I made such a big recovery and was able to walk again, and get back on skis, and eventually, found the bike."

Initially, she biked as a way to see her new home state of Washington but soon it became an athletic outlet.

"I went home for the summer, went to Cycle Mania in Portland, and was set up with my new adaptive bike, and fell in love with it."

The adaptive bike works with her strengths, as Brown's right arm is still mostly paralyzed, and her right leg, partially paralyzed. 

Now, 13 years after being told she'd never walk again, Clara Brown is heading to the paralympic games, representing team USA.

"Now that it's finally here, I'm just fired up and ready. I feel my training has gone as well as it could have and I'm just excited to see what I can do there."

Of Brown's four races, she says her main focus is on the 3k pursuit on the track. 

"It's about 12 laps, and roughly four minutes. We've made my training specific to the pursuit in the hopes in trickles into the other events as well."

Now, Brown is ready to ride and show the world what she and other para cyclists are capable of.

"We have some incredible athletes in this movement, but even if you might do something differently or using modified equipment like me, we still are able to accomplish incredible things."

Clara Brown is the feature subject in a new short film that debuts at the Maine Outdoor Film Festival on Thursday at the Eastern Prom in Portland. It highlights the skill of paralympic athletes, and it's fittingly titled, "Ability."

For more on the Maine Outdoor Film Festival, click here.

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According to a memo from Clara Brown's mother, para cyclists are categorized by degree of impairment. Para cyclists riding an upright bicycle, as opposed to a handcycle or some other type of cycle, are categorized from C-1 through C-5, with C-1 being the “most impaired” category and C-5 being the “least impaired” category. Clara competes in the Women’s C-3 category – her right arm is mostly paralyzed, and her right leg is partially paralyzed. 

In the 2020 Paralympics, the Women’s C-1, C-2, and C-3 categories will race together. For the 500m Time Trial (TT) race on the track, and the Road TT, and the C-1 and C-2 categories will be “handicapped” (called “factoring”) to “level” them (e.g., Clara might have an outright faster time than someone in the C-2  category, but when the C-2 racer’s time is adjusted down to account for the difference in impairment, the C-2 racer could be the winner). Clara will race in two events on the track – the 3000m Individual Pursuit and the 500m TT, and she’ll race in two events on the road – the Time Trial and the Road Race. 

Some of the times below are approximate because there are multiple other races and medal ceremonies for other categories of racers. The only definite times provided are the beginning and end of the day. 

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CLARA BROWN'S SCHEDULE: 

Para Cycling Track, Venue: Izu Velodrome 

Click here for her full schedule.

Tuesday, August 24 – Events start at 21:00 EDT. Clara’s first race is at the start of the day. 

  • Women's C1-3 3000m Individual Pursuit Qualifying (Tue 24 Aug., 21:00 EDT)
  • Women's C1-3 3000m Individual Pursuit Final (Tue 24 Aug., approx. 22:30 EDT) 
  • Women's C1-3 3000m Individual Pursuit Victory Ceremony (wee hours EDT of Wed 25 Aug.) 

Thu, 26 Aug. – Events start at 21:00 EDT. Clara’s race is at the start of the day. 

  • Women's C1-3 500m Time Trial Final (Thu 26 Aug., 21:00 EDT) 
  • Women's C1-3 500m Time Trial Victory Ceremony (Thu 26 Aug., approx. 22:30 EDT) 

Para Cycling Road, Venue: Fuji International Speedway 

Full schedule: https://olympics.com/tokyo-2020/en/paralympics/schedule/para-cycling-road-schedule  

Mon, 30 Aug. – Events start at 19:00 EDT. Clara’s race is the 5th race of the day. 

  • Women's C1-3 Time Trial (Mon, 30 Aug., approx. 21:00 EDT) 
  • Women's C1-3 Time Trial Victory Ceremony (wee hours EDT of Tue 31 Aug.) 

Thu, 2 Sep. – Road Race events start at 20:30 EDT. Clara’s race is the 2nd race of the day.

  • Women's C1-3 Road Race (Thu, 2 Sep., approx. 21:30 EDT) 
  • Women's C1-3 Road Race Victory Ceremony (Thu, 2 Sep., approx. 23:00 EDT)