Eric Brown is at the top of the world and he is also at the top of the podium in Spain.
He just traveled to Barcelona and won the CrossFit Championships for Adaptive Athletes, cleverly titled Wodcelona.
It’s a satisfying moment for the man from Yuin, Bidgigal and Gunngarra who managed to turn his life around after being in a dark place a decade ago.
Back in 2011 Brown had moved to central Queensland to work in the mines and won the local first tier rugby league competition with Moranbah.
He lived his dream.
“I was at a point in my life where I thought I was on top,” says Brown.
But all that changed quickly.
He attended the Murri Carnival, Queensland’s annual celebration of First Nations Rugby League, and was heavily involved in a heated game.
The opposition had scored and given Brown a helping. He was upset.
They had never seen an injury like this in football
“The coach came up to me and told me to get out for five minutes and I said, ‘No, I’m going to smash this guy at kick-off.'”
Then, in a failed tackle, Brown received a severe blow from an opposing player’s knee, tearing the muscles connecting his neck to his shoulder.
He lost all control of his left arm.
“When I was in the hospital they asked me if I had a motorcycle accident or a high-speed waterskiing accident – they had never seen an injury like this in football because of the severity,” he said.
Eric Brown in hospital after his injury Source: delivered
A downward spiral
Already trying to cope with a crippling injury made things worse.
“The worst part was not having anyone around because I was alone in Queensland,” Brown said.
“I had no family. All I had were the guys I met about 3 months ago.”
A tough four-month period ensued during which Brown, isolated and in hospital on painkillers, coped with the prospect of essentially losing an arm. With his loss of orientation, he fell deep into the clutches of addiction.
“When I left the hospital … I spent two years in a drug and alcohol addiction. I became addicted to oxycodone and endon and everything else related to it, the alcohol and other drugs.”
In the depths of his struggle, it was a tough love lesson from family that helped him turn the corner.
“The point that took me in a different direction was that my sister came to my shelter,” he said.
“I was in there like crazy and she said, ‘Eric, please don’t do this to yourself – you have a family there who love you and are there for you.’
“That changed my thinking [from] me about how I influenced my family. I wouldn’t say I stopped right away, but it took me on another journey to heal myself.”
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rut to salvation
The next part of Brown’s healing journey was rediscovering his love for exercise, something that had always been a constant in his life.
“I’ve been back and forth with my training; Sometimes I didn’t show up, sometimes I just went back to my old ways,” he says.
The gym where Brown worked out realized he was getting into a rut. They offered him two free sessions with a personal trainer.
Here Brown faced Darren Tahu, and in return he was introduced to Crossfit.
Brown would soon find that he was making solid progress and was pushing to compete for “adaptive athletes,” defined as someone with a permanent disability that limits their ability to work.
In his first competition in 2015, he finished fifth.
Since then, he has placed first at the 2022 WheelWOD, placed first at the 2022 Australian CrossFit Games Open, been a world semifinalist, and placed eighth overall at the CrossFit Games.
He did it in style – despite limited movement with one arm, he throws around impressive weights and has achieved great levels of fitness and happiness.
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On to the next
It’s evident on his face as he stands proudly on the podium in Barcelona, far from his home at Sydney’s La Perouse.
He speaks of the Spanish coastal city and thanks his partner Jade for standing by him through the difficult times.
“She saw the good in me through my pain, she gave me 5 beautiful children that I want to make proud,” he said.
“She also puts up with me walking around the house at 3:30 a.m. getting ready to leave the gym at 4:30 a.m.”
He’s also always grateful for his sister Sharon’s love when he was at his lowest point.
“[Her] Words stuck with me through the time of my addiction and I was able to walk away after her voice played in my head to continue.”
As he turns his thoughts to the next challenge in the United States in December, Brown reviews the journey as a whole.
“No matter how much life can throw you down, you can always find a way to pick yourself up,” he said.
“And never give up, no matter how difficult it is.”
With that attitude, it sounds like it’s only a matter of time before another podium comes under his feet.
Brown in training Source: delivered