Track star Brittni Mason to represent Cleveland, dispel misconceptions at Tokyo Paralympic Games

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CLEVELAND – Over the years, Brittni Mason has discovered that exercise is not just a way to stay in shape or let off the energy of competition. For the 23-year-old track star, the sport has relieved her body, specifically her shoulder and left arm, and she’s ready to show the world that disabilities don’t define a person.

Sport is the best medicine

Mason was born with Erb’s palsy, or brachial plexus palsy. Erb’s palsy is a birth injury that can develop when an infant’s neck is stretched to one side during a difficult delivery, causing temporary or permanent nerve damage. Since Erb’s palsy occurs in a network of nerves that control the muscles of the shoulders, elbows, wrists, and hands, while providing movement and sensation, the effects can be long lasting.

From an early age, Mason’s parents put her in physical therapy to help her reduce the limitations of her left arm. When she was around 10, Mason’s parents decided to add a mix of sports into her life to keep her active in the hopes that it would help her use her arm more.

“Track and field wasn’t my number one sport originally. I was a gymnast, a ballerina, I was in the dance company,” Mason said. “I also went swimming. And later in my life I kind of turned to physical contact sports. I played basketball and played sports consistently all year round just. to work that range of motion of my arm. “

Mason’s involvement in sports became therapeutic and she began to notice the effects it had on her body.

“Doing this actually helped me use my arm a lot more in my day-to-day life. So we found the sport to be very, very useful,” Mason said.

Rising track star

While Mason practiced several sports, it was by discovering athletics that she discovered a real passion and a remarkable talent.

“Once I was running around our house when I was a kid, and my dad was like, ‘Wow, she runs really fast. Let’s get her on the right track, “” recalls Mason. “And honestly, at the age of 10, that’s kind of how I got involved in the track.”

By the time Mason was 11, she was racing track and field in Cleveland for the Mustangs track team. Mason, new to the sport but quick on his feet, placed fifth in the country in the 100 and 200 meters.

It was then that she knew the track was her future.

Mason made his way through the records until high school. The West Geauga High School graduate set the district record for the 100m and 200m while winning district, regional conference and state championships during her high school years.

As she continued her college education, traveling to eastern Michigan where she is still in the process of obtaining her masters degree, Mason maintained her winning path, placing regularly in relays, 60-meter sprints and 100-meter sprints.

Then, in 2019, an opportunity presented itself to Mason, an opportunity that she did not see coming.

Towards gold

Two years ago, someone contacted Mason’s coach in Eastern Michigan to ask if she would be interested in competing in the Paralympic Games.

Mason then learned that her Erb’s paralysis made her eligible to participate in the Paralympic Games. With less than a month to train, Mason was about to make his debut at the World Championships in Dubai.

“I didn’t know I was going to go and it was pretty stressful because I was sort of in good shape, sort of going back to summer training and so I hadn’t sprinted since. about six or seven months, ”Mason said.

Despite the lack of time to train and prepare for the biggest stage of his track career, Mason impressed in Dubai by setting the world record in the 100 meters.

Mason’s start to Paralympic career was sparked by a world record and has now turned into qualifying for the 2021 Paralympic Games in Tokyo, where she is expected to run the 100m and 200m.

A few weeks before leaving for Japan, Mason is working hard to keep her arm fit and ready, which she has learned to do well over the years.

“I would constantly have muscle pushes where my shoulder would be super, super tight and I couldn’t move it and it would hurt so much. I would have a lot of pain,” Mason said. “The coaches didn’t know what to do with it. And so over time I just learned to learn my body – and I actually studied exercise science, so it helped me learn a lot more. my body – but I was able to find things to help me somehow reduce inflammation and work during my workouts. “

Mason said that running with Erb’s paralysis is a big part of conditioning his arm, like a person with asthma conditions his lungs.

On a very active routine, Mason runs longer to prevent his arm from getting tired during his runs while working push-ups and pull-ups during training to help him work on his range of motion.

Running may seem like a very leg-oriented sport, but the whole body is involved in sprinting, and with a tired, outstretched, or stiff arm, Mason’s performance can be significantly disrupted.

“It definitely affected me when I run, especially the longer runs,” Mason said. “As you get tired, once my arm stops pumping, it’s all fine.”

Representation is important

As she prepares to compete in the Tokyo Paralympic Games next month, Mason is eager to represent her hometown on the world stage while dispelling misconceptions surrounding the event.

“I never thought I’d be running after college and going to Tokyo to represent my country. And I currently have the fastest times in the world in my rankings. So that gave me a boost,” Mason said. . “I’m really excited to go out there, put Cleveland on the map and then represent the United States.”

Mason said being able to represent Cleveland was one of his biggest inspirations.

“It motivates me more because it’s like I don’t want to let my city down, I want to play for them so they have something to come home and brag about,” Mason said.

But there’s another motivator that fuels Mason on his quest for gold – showing that the Paralympics include a host of handicaps, even ones you might not be able to see.

“When I learned more about the Paralympics, I thought the same thing, which everyone usually thinks – amputee or in a wheelchair. I didn’t know I was eligible. And the fact that I was in a wheelchair. ran with able-bodied people all my life, I ran track and field in Division I middle school. I went to run track and field in high school against anyone who had the same disability as me – it just gave me feel like working twice as hard just to prove myself, “Mason said. “It took me until I was 21 to know that Erb’s paralysis was a thing for the Paralympic Games.”

Looking at Mason, you might not know that she lives with a disability – but it’s an idea of ​​the Paralympics and disabilities in general that she hopes she can help dispel running in Tokyo.

“I really want to be that person showing this exhibit. Like, ‘Hey, it’s not just amputees, it’s not just wheelchair runners.’ These people who have Erb’s palsy like me, or who have cerebral palsy and even visually impaired people who run, “Mason said. “It’s a lot more exciting to see a variety of these athletes adapting, having to adapt to so many different circumstances. And they kill him.”

Mason hopes people will tune in to the Paralympics to see her and her fellow athletes compete and represent people around the world living with different disabilities, some viable, some less, but all worthy of recognition.

“If people can connect and we can give them a show, that’s exactly what we’re going to do. That’s what I plan to do,” Mason said. “Even though the stands might be empty, I’m still looking to play and get the crowd excited and people to listen to us and watch us compete.”

The Paralympic Games will take place from August 24 to September 5. To learn more about events and competitions, click here.

RELATED: After overcoming adversity, Cleveland native Reggie Jagers III is ready for the Tokyo Olympics

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