Danielle Brown is a Double Paralympic Gold Medallist but also the first disabled athlete to represent England in the able-bodied team. What’s more Danielle is a published children’s author and professional speaker who champions inclusion at every opportunity.
Danielle has lived with Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) since the age of 11 and so knows more than a thing or two about overcoming adversity with a vengeance! Earlier this year, Danielle was kind enough to have a chat with us all about her life with CRPS, becoming a leading Paralympian, professional public speaker, author and incredible role model to us all.
I was eleven-years-old when my feet started to hurt after I’d been running. It was a minor inconvenience to start with, but by the time I was thirteen it was really starting to affect my life. I was struggling to walk around school and taking part in the sports I’d loved doing as a child was just impossible. I didn’t get diagnosed with CRPS until I was sixteen, so there were a lot of hospital appointments where doctors tried to figure out what was causing my pain and as a teenager, going through this it was tough.
Growing Up with CRPS
I spent a lot of time in my teenage years living in fear; I worried that people wouldn’t be able to see past my crutches or my wheelchair and see the value that I had to offer. I worried the effect this would have on my future hopes and dreams, and whether I would be overlooked in my career path.
Living in constant pain is not easy, but I found the most difficult challenge was losing my confidence. As a teenager, you’re trying to figure out who you are and, acquiring my disability, I felt that I didn’t fit in. There was a real lack of representation and role models to showcase what was possible, and I became very shy and unsure of myself.
What I would tell anybody with a recent diagnosis, as well as fifteen-year-old me, is that you are more than a label. Disability might be challenging and, absolutely exhausting on some days, and whilst you can’t control it you can control your response to it. Choosing to focus on what you have left rather than what you’ve lost is very empowering and helps you take steps forward.
I started on my fifteenth birthday. I wanted to find a sport that I could manage and I didn’t know much about Paralympic sport at all – this was back in 2003 and the information wasn’t as easily available. I figured it was down to either archery or swimming, and playing with bows and arrows seemed way more fun. I signed up to a local club and my Dad and I did a beginner’s course and it was so much fun – although I was absolutely terrible to start with.
I didn’t get into archery with medals in mind, I just wanted to have fun. A couple at my club, Ian and Renee Metcalfe, took me under their wing and kept telling me I had potential. Under their guidance and coaching I started to enter local competitions and as I improved I kept setting the bar higher and higher, until the next step was the Paralympics.
Competing in the Paralympics was the highlight of my career, first in Beijing in 2008 and then again in London 2012 I won gold for archery and it was incredible. Sadly in 2013 I was given the devastating news that my CRPS did not technically impact on my performance and so I was declassified – meaning I was no longer considered to be ‘disabled enough’ to compete as a Paralympian. It shook my complete identity, I was an athlete and then suddenly I was no longer an athlete. I was still a person living with a disability it was just that I was no longer considered disabled enough to compete as a Paralympian. What’s more when I looked into competing as an Olympian, the size bow I had used all my career was not one that was recognised in Olympic discipline. Not only was my career as an athlete in jeopardy, I very quickly needed to find a way to make a living whilst also continuing to live with a physically debilitating condition.
Becoming an Author and Public Speaker
Undeniably, the reclassification of my condition was life changing. Despite having a law degree from the University of Leicester I knew law wasn’t something I wanted to practise. I was a little lost in terms of direction when a local school invited me to present the end of term prizes. I made a short speech and to my surprise not only did the audience enjoy it, I did too. I realised very quickly that the schoolkids I was talking to were engaged because my sporting life had been about resilience, discipline, goal setting and succeeding and this was wholly translatable to them. Very quickly I was excited to speak publicly and so I did, my career in sport had in fact fuelled my career in public speaking and I was excited to be a part of something which helped others.
Just before lockdown 2020 I was invited to speak to Mensa, the high IQ society. After my talk I was approached by Nathan Kai (aged 7) who wanted to write a book for kids about being the best you can be and this opened a whole new project! We worked hard and now have published a self-development book for children called Be Your Best Self. It has been a super project to work on and great to cover all those positive messages about dreaming big and becoming more confident and resilient – to name a few!
The other book I have written is Run Like A Girl which features 50 female athletes from around the world. It was inspired by the lack of sporting role models I had as a child. I never realised that a career in sport was possible growing up, and even though there is slightly better representation now, so many amazing stories fall under the radar. It was incredibly inspiring to research each athlete and understand their motivations for tackling some of the most dangerous challenges in the world, or rising to the top in their field.
Writing has been a brilliant discovery and something I will continue to do, watch this space!
Living with Crutches
I started using crutches at fourteen to help my mobility; I found they let me get around much better but I got horrible blisters from the ones loaned to me by the NHS. I bought my first pair of Cool Crutches (I’ve got the purple ones) as a present to myself after London 2012. I saw another athlete in the village with a pair and I loved the bright colours so I asked her about them and made a note of the brand. I never really thought of crutches as anything more than something that could help me get around, but I love how my Cool Crutches really stand out and are an accessory as well as a tool.
What I’ve Learnt
Whilst growing up with CRPS and living with a disability has been hard, it has also brought some huge positives. Ultimately my disability opened up so many new doors and enabled me to find a sport I love and represent my country. More than that, I feel my disability has given me an incredible skillset – resilience, creativity and forward-thinking are all things I had to get good at quickly and they have really helped me in so many different aspects of my life.
One thing I’m sure of is that success doesn’t happen by accident and it doesn’t happen overnight, you have to stoke the passion! If you’re going to achieve a huge goal, be it the Olympics, Paralympics or something completely different then you need to work insanely hard and push through so many barriers. Passion drives us to keep going when things get tough, and inspire us through it. Plus finding enjoyment in whatever you do, for example sport is key – it can be the social aspect, competitive element or opportunities to give back but whatever it is it’s super important you find it!
I’m really looking forward to branching out with my writing career – I’ve got some very exciting things in the pipeline but I’m not allowed to talk about them yet! You can follow me on Instagram or on my website for updates J
Thank you so much to Danielle for taking the time to talk to us, a truly inspiring woman, we are in awe of her passion and determination! How lucky we are Danielle chose Cool Crutches.
To find out more about any of the information mentioned above please have a look at the links below:
Danielle’s website - https://www.daniellebrown.co.uk/
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/daniellebrownmbe
Twitter - https://twitter.com/Danibrownmbe