When an accident left athlete Clara Brown ’17 paralyzed, it took her years to recover. Reinventing herself as a para-cyclist, she’s competing again—and moving faster than ever before.

When an accident left athlete Clara Brown ’17 paralyzed, it took her years to recover. Reinventing herself as a para-cyclist, she’s competing again—and moving faster than ever before.

Clara Brown ’17 walked into the VELO Sports Center in Los Angeles, Calif., and immediately her palms started to sweat. It was the day before the 2019 U.S. Paralympics Track Cycling Open, where she’d be competing as a C3 para-cyclist for the first time. A group of cyclists went by at 25, 30, 40 miles per hour, and Clara tuned in to the sound of the bikes’ tires gripping the wood planks of the track. She could almost feel the wind over the cyclists’ bodies, the centrifugal force pushing them down as they took each turn.

In track cycling, riders clip into fixed-gear bikes with no brakes. The course is too short and fast for switching gears, and it’s too dangerous to stop abruptly. At each turn in the velodrome track, the floor slopes up, so a rider must keep up a certain amount of speed—the exact amount determined by the degree to which the wall is banked—in order to stay on the track. Just six months earlier, when she hadn’t been going fast enough, Clara’s bike had slid out from under her, which made her wary about riding a track race again. But Clara isn’t one to give up easily.