NEW BRIGHTON, Minn. (WCCO) — Many great athletes come from humble beginnings, but for his entire life, Mark Braun has been fighting to overcome obstacles. He was born with spinal bifida, a birth defect that left his legs upside down and crossed.
His biological parents left him for dead in the bottom of a garbage can in his home country of Jamaica. He was then adopted by a missionary and now is one of the premier wheelchair athletes in the country.
Braun was the star on three back to back national championships wheelchair basketball teams.
The expansion of wheelchair track and field in the Minnesota High School league has allowed Mark Braun to excel in yet another sport.
Irondale High School student Braun is the first male to compete in Minnesota track and field in a wheelchair. He currently holds state records in two of the three events wheelchair athletes can compete in.
“I’m just very excited that we’re allowed to be on the same track with able bodies, we’re allowed to race besides others who aren’t any different,” said Braun. “We may race with adaptions, we aren’t any different and we can do the same things.”
The Minnesota High School league began allowing wheelchair athletes to compete in track and field last year. Braun was the first male to take the challenge.
This year, the league expanded the number of events these athletes can compete in, and there are other changes. For the first time, Braun will compete side by side with athletes who don’t use a wheelchair.
Braun is an all-around athlete. He plays adaptive softball, floor hockey and soccer. He is also a three time national wheelchair basketball champion.
His bedroom, hallway and family room in his home are full of awards, medals and trophies. But it’s track and field that fills a need for camaraderie with the people he sees every day.
“You’re with your other friends, but you’re not with your high school friends and you’re with a program that’s just self-contained,” said Braun.
Braun says he’s glad his classmates are able to see him practice and compete just like the other athletes at school.
When he is on the track, Braun says there is nothing he cannot accomplish.
“If you believe in yourself, you’ll do great,” he said.
His school and state track records are proof of that.
“As a pioneer and to start something like this, you begin being alone and you build up support and you build up friends,” he said.
Braun has built a reputation as a fierce competitor, and his drive and determination set him apart from others.
Irondale track coach Tom Rodefeld says he is honored to have someone like Mark in the program.
“He is a team leader he leads with his character on and off the track,” said Rodefeld. “When he goes to our meets or away meets, it’s so fun to watch him the way he educates the other athletes about his events about himself about his sport in general.”
Braun says every athlete deserves to have the right to race, and he says he will fight for that even after he graduates from Irondale. For now he will keep on striving for inclusion — and, of course, gold medals.
“Each and every achievement has a story behind it, and I look at those stories as a memory to put in the memory book,” said Braun.
His mother Claire keeps good records on where Braun has been and where he’s headed.
“It’s really crucial that a child have a memory to kind of look back on, so if you have all these positive things you don’t have to dwell on the negative,” she said.
She has fostered more than 70 children, many with disabilites. She has adopted eight of them, including Mark. Claire keeps her son grounded and focused on what he can do, like following his dream of one day being an Olympian.
“My times qualify for the Paralympic standards,” said Braun. “So I’m hoping to go to London this summer in the 2012 Paralympic games with Team USA.”
Braun hopes to one day coach other athletes, both those who have the use of their legs as well as those who use a wheelchair to compete.