James has had an extremely varied sporting career. This includes 8 years on the GB International athletics team during which he won double gold at 1984 Summer Games in New York and 16 years on the British winter sports team competing in cross-country skiing.

He also coached and acted as a guide runner for Darren Cook, a completely blind middle-distance runner, when he took three gold medals at the World Youth Games for the Disabled at St Etienne in the 1980s.  He still considers this his greatest sporting achievement.

An interview with James Brown

Interviewer Klara Janicki, November 2012

Visually impaired runner James Brown talks about guided running

James talks about the impact of the London 2012 Paralympic Games where he took bronze for Ireland in the cycling time trial

What do you consider your biggest achievement in sport and life?

It may seem odd, but my biggest achievement is somebody else’s achievement. After university I went back to my old school, the College for the Blind in Worcester, to see whether I liked teaching. I always thought I wanted to be a teacher, but I loved the school so much I just couldn’t get enough of it, so I went back and worked as a volunteer, started off just doing general support around the place. They had a scheme for volunteers and they had overseas students to come and work there, so I became one of those. But I quickly recognized there were a bunch of potential athletes who were not receiving the coaching and support that they needed in order to be able to achieve what they could. So I worked with half a dozen of the kids, who had the potential to be top sports people, coached them and actually acted as a guide runner for two of them. I have got enough sight to be able to run by myself, also enough to be able to guide somebody else luckily, but I suppose the fact that I’d spent seven years at the school learning the local roads, I was able to take two of the runners, one at a time obviously, totally blind guys.

One of them in particular was really interested in the middle distance events that I had done well, so I coached him and guided him, and worked with him over the course of the year and then went to the World Youth Games for the disabled in France, in Saint Ettienne. I was the middle distance coach for the team, but also Darren Cook’s guide-runner and we thought he might do ok, and he actually won his first race which was the 800 metres and we put him into the 1500 metres as well. Because there weren’t enough totally blind youngsters in the race, they combined all the sight categories together so he was running against the unguided partially-sighted runners. I remember to this day the realisation on about the third lap that we were going to catch the American runner, who was running without a guide, and I said to Darren, “I’m gonna stop talking”,(because one of the things you do as a guide you give a kind of a commentary on where you are in the field and I could see enough to realise that we were capturing the leading runner) and I said to Darren,

I’m gonna shut up because we’re going to take this guy by surprise.

And we overtook him on the bend coming into the last lap, and won the race.

We also decided to do the 400 metres which he won as well, and in fact he took six seconds off his personal best for 400 metres. He completely astonished himself and me; I had to let him go on the finishing straight because I couldn’t keep up with him. And it’s just sad, that he hasn’t been able to continue running because it’s very hard for blind runners to get guides of the right standard, I will still keep in touch with Darren but that was definitely my biggest achievement, guiding him to his three gold medals in the World games.

Download a pdf file of the full transcript here