Senior Sean Ewing went for the gold at the 2012 Paralympics in London.
Ewing is a guide runner for track and field athlete David Brown, whom he met through his church in St. Louis.
Brown attended the Missouri School for the Blind in St. Louis, where Ewing said he developed his athleticism.
“He has always been a tough competitor,” he said.
Ewing started doing track and field for St. Louis Express when he was eight years old. He ran track for Hazelwood Central High School, and he continued to run at Highland Community College in St. Joseph, Mo.
At first, Ewing was unable to accept scholarships from Division One universities because of his low ACT score, so he decided to run at the junior college level. Ewing is a two-time All Jayhawk Conference champion in the 60 meter dash, a two-time National Junior College Athletic Association qualifier in the 4×100 meter relay and an All-Jayhawk Conference champion in the 4×100 meter dash.
After earning his associate’s degree in 2009, Ewing transferred to UMKC. However, Ewing said he is ineligible to run track and field for UMKC because he is a paid member of the Paralympics. “At that point, I had already achieved everything I wanted to achieve as an athlete,” he said. “I wanted to help with the success of others. I really want to coach someday.”
Ewing decided he would help others in the sport instead of furthering his personal career. In 2010, Ewing partnered with Brown at the 2011 World Youth Games in Colorado.
Cathy Sellers, the track and field high-performance director for the Paralympics, scouted Brown and Ewing and invited them to compete in the 2011 Paralympics World Championship in Guadalajara, Mexico. Brown placed fifth overall at the age of 18.
“David was so young then, and he was already doing so well,” he said. “I could see his potential to do even better. He was a world class wrestler before he completely lost his sight.”
The Paralympics has a classification process, which ensures that winning is determined by skill, fitness, power, endurance, tactical ability and mental focus, the same factors that account for success in sport for able bodied athletes, according to the organization’s website.
Brown is in sport class T11, meaning he competes in track events and he is in class 11 of 13, the class that has athletes with the lowest vision.
Athletes in this sport class are required to be tethered to a guide runner with a non-stretch band attached to their wrists. Because each athlete in this class requires a guide runner, only four athletes can compete in a track event at one time.
“In London, the lanes were really tight so it was a challenge to stay inside the lines,” he said.
Brown got fourth overall at the London Paralympic Games, just missing the podium.
“The Parade of Nations was the number one experience of my life,” he said. “When we entered the stadium, I immediately started crying from excitement. It is the ultimate goal in any sport [to represent your country].
Ewing and the other Team USA athletes wore $1,200 worth of Ralph Lauren clothes.
“An athlete from another country kept pointing to my beret,” he said. “I couldn’t understand what he was saying, but I just gave it [the beret] to him.”
Ewing commented on Oscar Pistorius, the South African Paralympic sprinter whose legs were amputated below the knee. Pistorius wears lightweight fiber prosthetics when he competes.
“I don’t think it’s unfair for him to compete with able-bodied athletes,” he said. “It takes him a long time to build up speed on those things. His form is everything of an able-bodied athlete. He is not at any advantage.”
The Paralympic Games began in Rome in 1960. The first games included just 10 countries and 31 athletes, with 25 medal events. At London’s games in 2012, more than 120 countries and 1,100 athletes competed, and there were 170 medal events.
Ewing attributed the exponential growth of the program to Paralympic athletes like Pistorius, April Holmes and Jerome Singleton.
“Singleton is the only man ever to defeat Pistorius,” he said. “These athletes are sponsored by Nike. They are huge names for the sport. They have made the stage bigger than ever.”
Ewing and Brown are training to compete in Rio de Janiero for the 2016 Paralympics. Ewing trains three hours per day, five days per week. He works with Brown to ensure they are in sync, particularly at the start-off.
“We work a lot on the drive phase and we make sure we finish strong,” he said.
Brown was ranked fifth in the world in 2012 for the 100 meter dash in his sport class.
“Never think that first [place] is enough,” he said. “Always train like you’re in second [place] and the results will come.”