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Friends and Foes

North Catholic’s Alex Brown, left, crosses the finish line ahead of Knoch’s Kristofer Robinson during the Butler County Classic track and field meet at Slippery Rock High School in April. Justin Guido/Special to the Eagle
North’s Brown relished competition with Knoch’s Robinson

Competition loves company and Alex Brown can certainly attest.

The recent graduate of North Catholic and resident of Cranberry Township spent the first three years of high school competing against himself in track and field wheelchair events — the 100 and 200-meter dash and shot put.

He hoped for a time when he could put his abilities up against those of other competitors.

Enter Kristofer Robinson.

“Kris and I had played sled hockey together for eight years for the Pittsburgh Mighty Penguins, so we know each other really well,” said Brown. “I asked him last fall if he’d like to try the wheelchair events when spring rolled around.“

Robinson, who just wrapped up his sophomore year at Knoch High School, was on board with the idea. The two faced each other in all three events at the Butler County Classic in April as well as the WPIAL and PIAA meets last month. They went 3-3 against each other in the track events while Robinson won the shot put all three times.

“I hate to lose more than I want to win,” Brown said. “I was nervous knowing that I was going up against somebody. Kris is a great kid with a great personality and his competitive fire is infectious. We made each other better.”

While Brown lost the use of his legs due to a spinal stroke when he was 4 years old, Robinson lost his right leg when he was a toddler due to cartilage cancer.

“I played different sports when I was younger — soccer, horseback riding and gymnastics, but I didn’t think I would be able to excel at any of them,” Robinson said. “I’ve really enjoyed sled hockey and then this spring, when I committed myself to the wheelchair events, I wanted to win, but was just starting out and didn’t know my capabilities. I had to get used to it and Alex helped me.

“I enjoy the shot put the most. There’s less stress because I don’t have to worry about staying in my lane like the track events.”

While his days of competing against Brown are over with the latter’s graduation, Robinson is planning on returning to meets next spring.

“There’s four or five kids I play sled hockey with who said they want to try it out next season,” he said. “That will make it more fun.”

As for Brown, he is headed to the University of Alabama to major in creative media and will continue to compete.

“They have an adaptive track and field program, had six or seven members this year and expect to have as many as 10 next year,” he said. “I am really looking forward to it. Competition is exhilarating. It heightens your senses and fuels the competitive juices.”

Brown left a huge imprint not only at North Catholic, but also with the WPIAL and PIAA.

As a freshman, he took part in section meets and invitationals, but was not allowed to compete at the district or state meet.

“The PIAA did not have any standards set, times and distances to achieve to move on to the state meet,” said Brown. “My family sued the PIAA and it was a long process to get them to accept athletes like myself. Since then, though, they’ve been very supportive.”

While he relishes the opportunity to win events, Brown recognizes that the legal victory he was a part of carries so much more weight.

“Winning on the track is great, but it is fleeting,” he said. “At the state meet in May, I won the 100 against Kris and then he turned around and beat me in the 200 and that was the end of my high school career. But to start a movement that will help kids in my situation be able to compete and achieve, that’s much more meaningful.”

Brown and his family have formed the Rise Again Foundation, which among other goals, aims to help introduce people with physical disabilities to wheelchairs that can be used in competition.

“Chairs like mine cost $6,000 to $7,000,” Brown said. “That’s a lot of money for a family to spend, especially when a kid may end up not liking the wheelchair events.

“We want to be able to take chairs around and let kids try them out before purchasing to see if it’s something they want to get into.”

Brown has a number of medals from his high school career, and even more important intangibles.

“Just being part of a team, being around the other athletes and going to the team banquet, it made me feel I was part of something bigger,” he said. “Representing North Catholic is something I’ll keep in my heart for a long time.”

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