Walter Brown is a runner who never quits. After a brutal accident 20 years ago, he was told he would never walk again. He battled back through pain and setbacks and today is a competitive racer.
1. Have you always been a runner?
No, I grew up in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho and wanted to be a baseball player when I was young. I moved to Salt Lake City in 1982 and started running when I was 11 years old when a man named Paul Cummings (winner of the 1984 Olympic Trials in the 10,000-meter run) wrote a simple 3-month training program for me. It started with 2 miles and built up. I ran my first race in January 1982 with the Salt Lake Track Club at their eight-week winter series race. From then on, I loved competing.
2. What happened in your 1993 accident? What were your injuries and the doctor’s prognosis?
On Christmas Eve 1993, I was driving onto the on-ramp in Sandy to I-215 when I hit black ice and slid into the guardrail. I got out of my car and went to lift the hood of my disabled vehicle when a drunk driver came off the road and hit my vehicle, pinning me to the guardrail. I broke my pelvis in 23 places, hemorrhaged both my knees, and blew 2 discs in my lower back. The doctors said I would never walk again. At best with pinning my hip I would get motion of one leg to come back, but not both. I had an option to skip surgery and hang in a contraction device that would try to heal the breaks in my pelvis naturally, but I was assured that either way my mobility wouldn’t return.
3. You defied their predictions. What drove you?
I was depressed at first until a friend reminded me that just because they’re labeled as professional doctors doesn’t give them the right to decide my life for me. She told me to fight, and my attitude went from depressed to believing I would walk again. I found a therapist who used pool therapy to teach your body to walk again. For three months I did one hour of shock therapy on my legs from my hips down to my toes and one hour of pool walking at 4 feet deep with my arm over the shoulder of my therapist. My right leg came back within the first few weeks of these treatments. My left leg took a few months after that, but I started walking with a walker, then crutches, then one crutch, and finally on my own in April 2004. I hung in the harness with a pelvis cast around my waist that hooked up to a pulley as I would lay on the hospital bed. It raised my pelvis up 6–8” off the bed. I did this for four months all day and night and was only allowed to lower myself onto the bed for one hour a day.
4. What did your recovery process look like?
Recovery was slow, but the breaks in my body healed. Pool therapy and daily physical therapy helped a ton. I did this for a year and got to the point where I could walk and do everyday functions again, but my first attempt to run again didn’t come until 8 years later. I bought a mountain bike and used it from the time I was back to walking, but running still hurt too much.
5. What pushed you to start racing again?
In 2002 I watched my sister-in-law run the Top of Utah Marathon, and something in me knew I could do it! I tried running on and off after that into the fall and trained for my first race on July 4, 2003. It was a 15K run, and I took 20th overall with an average pace of 7 minutes. It was a far cry from my high school times, but I set goals after that to run my first marathon and am now on my 11th season of running strong!
6. What advice would you give to new runners or those looking to improve?
My best advice is to get out and run 3–5 times a week. Start with low mileage and build slowly to get your body used to it. You’ll reach a point where it’s enjoyable and even therapeutic. Join a running club in your area and get motivated by others. If you don’t know of a group, ask your local running store for help.
7. Why do you run? What drives you and what do you get in return?
One of my mottos is: I Run Therefore I AM. This is me! It’s my life! My life has been molded around it from my youth on and it became stronger with a goal to simply walk again, to continually push my limits. I started a marathon pacing company called American Flyers Race Pacers that helps runners racing reach their goals. We run alongside them with specific time goals for the group to try and stick to. This has defined my racing, and I believe I would be burned out in my training if I didn’t have this in my life. I love watching others reach a goal they didn’t think they could accomplish until it happens. It inspires me to push harder.
8. What are some of your racing highlights?
My first marathon was Carlsbad Marathon, December 2003 with a time of 3:31. My fastest marathon was St. George Marathon, October 2010 with a 2:31. I’m currently 5th in the nation in age through USATF, and last year I won the Masters USATF for 40 and up in Utah. My fastest half marathon is 1:08 at the Mt. Nebo Half 2012.