It has only been five years since Fran Brown first took up paratriathlon, and already Brown has gone on to become world champion, win two European titles and has represented ParalympicsGB at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
Before 2016, Brown’s main reason for swimming was as cross training for para climbing, a sport she became double world champion in. After deciding to take on a new challenge, triathlon was a sport that appealed to Brown having also cycled when she was younger.
Brown, who has a C4 spinal cord injury, enjoyed the “freedom” of being back on the bike having initially used a handcycle after her injury following an accident at work.
Intrigued by combining swim, bike and run, Brown joined her local club, London Fields Triathlon Club, and was soon taking part in her first triathlon – a GO TRI at the London Aquatics Centre in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
“I was inspired by the Brownlees [Alistair and Jonny] at 2012 [Olympic Games] and then watching again in Rio, but I just wanted to do something that was challenging and would keep me fit,” Brown said.
“When I entered the GO TRI, I had only recently joined the tri club, so I just wanted to do it for fun because at that point it was more about finding a group of like-minded people rather than the performance side, but, as I demonstrated from my climbing, I’m stubborn and bloody-minded so I was always going to give it my best shot.”
GO TRI’s take place across the country throughout the year and have been uniquely developed to ensure there is something for everyone, no matter the individual’s age, experience or ability. It was this inclusive ethos that saw Brown find her first experience of swim, bike, run so enjoyable.
“I really enjoyed it,” Brown said. “It was my first event and I immediately got the bug from there. It was a great event to start with because it was really accessible. We swam in the pool, cycled on the static bike in the gym and then ran up and down the bit of the park by the Aquatics Centre.
“Being in a pool made it really accessible, you didn’t have to have a wetsuit, you didn’t have to swim in open water, and it was quite early in the year, so it would have been way too cold for me to do an outside one anyway. There was also such a range of abilities and a range of experience, so it was really nice not to be the only person who hadn’t done anything like that before.
“It was really good, I really enjoyed it. I met loads of new people who were new to it as well, so you didn’t feel too intimidated.”
When Brown was at the Aquatics Centre taking part in her first triathlon, little did she know where the sport would take her. The GO TRI turned out to be the start of a successful paratriathlon career to date for Brown including world and European titles.
“After the GO TRI, I then entered more competitions and events that year, including my first outdoor triathlon at the London Triathlon,” Brown added.
“I was still running on my crutches at that point, so I was very slow, but I really enjoyed it. Then I did Tri Liverpool which was the British Paratriathlon Championships that year, and that was my first experience of getting classified.
“Then, in late 2016 early 2017, I applied to do every single talent ID programme that existed and I got a trial for the development squad and, by the time I had the trial with the development squad I had managed to start running without my crutches by getting different braces. They still weren’t perfect braces, I’ve got much better ones now, but it allows me to run without my crutches.
“I went through the trials and confirmation stuff with the talent team, and in 2017 I got selected for the Europeans, which was my first international race, and it kind of took from there. My first international race was really special. You get your trisuit with your name on it, you’re part of the squad, and that still sticks with me as a really special event.”
International success followed for Brown, who says 2017 and 2018 were “really good stepping stones to then winning worlds and Europeans in 2019”.
There have been many challenges for Brown along the way, not least finding the right equipment for her disability when running, and then managing health issues in the build-up to her Paralympic Games debut in Tokyo.
“I was in really good shape in 2019, it was probably the pinnacle of my fitness so far,” Brown said. “Obviously, being selected for Tokyo off the back of my performances in 2019 was amazing but then I had a load of health issues in the run-up, so, when you look at the bigger picture, it’s difficult to say I’m disappointed with my performance given my health issues.
“As much as I’m still really, really proud to be a Paralympian, it’s probably not the pinnacle of my career. I would say winning the worlds in 2019 was a step-up from that but I’m still not done yet, there’s still, hopefully, many more opportunities to come including Paris in 2024.”
Along with the international success, swim, bike, run has had an impact on Brown on a personal level.
“It’s definitely opened up the ability to go to places where I wouldn’t otherwise go and see,” Brown said. “But, also, I’ve definitely grown from a confidence perspective from doing triathlon. If you can manage yourself and manage your disability through a swim, bike and run, then day-to-day stuff just feels that little bit easier.
“It’s given me friendships, the opportunity to meet new people, meet like-minded people, and to be able to say that sport is my work is such a privilege.”
Visit https://www.gotri.org/ to find out more about how you can get involved including opportunities and events near you.
You can find out more about paratriathlon and taking up the sport by visiting the British Triathlon website on the link below.