There were 289 athletes who represented Team USA at the Paralympic Games Rio 2016.
And while U.S. Paralympians garnered plenty of attention for their 115 total medals, it wasn’t often you heard about the athletes who just missed the cut.
Insert, Jamie Brown.
The former collegiate baseball player was a two-time paratriathlon national champion who fell short of qualifying for the paratriathlon competition at the sport’s Paralympic Games debut.
“It was a very challenging two years. I put a lot effort into qualifying for Rio,” Brown said. “This year is more about recharging the batteries, and at the end of this year or beginning of next year they’ll make the announcement of which classes will be included and then I can start to diagram how I want to approach the next three years.”
Following the Rio Games, with the growth of the sport, the ITU increased its sport classes from five to six, adjusting how athletes were grouped together for competition to ensure a level playing field was being maintained.
Previously, Brown competed in the PT4 class, which was for all athletes with a mild degree of activity limitation and included both below-the-elbow arm amputates and below-the-knee amputees, among athletes with other mild impairments.
Now, he’s competing in the PTS4 class, which is just for below-the-knee amputees and athletes with other mild impairments, and he’s ranked No. 2 in the world following his first-place finish at last weekend’s Yokohama ITU World Paratriathlon Series race in Japan. His finishing time of 1:05:35 was more than a minute faster than any of his competitors and came just two months after he won the Sarasota CAMTRI Paratriathlon American Championships.
At 36, Brown is by no means a young, rising star in the sport, though, and podium finishes have been a long time coming for the Carlsbad, California, native.
Born with a missing fibula on his right leg and three fingers on his right hand, Brown played every sport imaginable growing up; he fixated on baseball in high school after realizing that’s where he excelled most. He earned a scholarship to play on the diamond at Chapman University, where he ended up playing in the Division III College World Series.
He then returned to his high school to coach baseball for nearly nine years before being introduced to paratriathlon by the San Diego-based Challenged Athletes Foundation.
While Brown grew up swimming in the ocean on a daily basis, he had never run on a running blade before. In no time, he adjusted to the blade, quickly earning two national titles in paratriathlon and finishing the 2014 ITU World Championships as the fastest leg amputee.
Participating in a newer Paralympic sport, though, meant fewer sport classes, so Brown said he was “put to the woodshed” every time he hit the course and had to compete against athletes with a range of impairments.
But in a way, that made him stronger for the long run.
“I think the best thing that’s happened to me in the sport was being paired with the hand amputees because it really forced me to find a way to get better,” Brown said. “It was a big challenge. But over those two years, that made me such a better athlete.”
While the U.S. won four of the nine paratriathlon medals available on the women’s side at last year’s Paralympics, Brown hopes to become the first U.S. man to make the Paralympic podium in the sport at the Tokyo 2020 Games.
At No. 2 in the world — out of 68 athletes in the world rankings — and if Brown’s sport class is picked for Paralympic competition later this year, he’s expected to be an early favorite to contend for any color on the medal stand.
Stuart Lieberman covered Paralympic sports for three years at the International Paralympic Committee, including at the London 2012 and Sochi 2014 Games. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.