Jennifer Brown was eight years old when her hometown of Calgary hosted the Winter Olympics.
For Jennifer, it was a first-hand chance in her own city to see what was possible through sport.
“The excitement and energy which the Olympics brought to the city made me fall in love with sport as a whole,” she says.
Jennifer developed a passion – and skill –for track and field, especially the throwing events. In high school she started competing in hammer throw and continued through university where she represented teams at both the University of Calgary and University of Saskatchewan.
But in 2006, not long after finishing her degree in urban planning, the former high-level athlete found herself in an unusual position: she couldn’t walk.
Jennifer’s left leg had shut down. Soon, about 50 percent of her right leg did, too. She ended up in the hospital. Doctors ran tests. What was happening to the otherwise healthy 26-year-old?
Jennifer was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system. The disease attacks the protective covering of the nerves, causing inflammation and making it difficult for the brain to send signals properly throughout the body.
“It was like my legs had turned to spaghetti on crutches,” she says.
It would take six months of dedicated therapy for her to walk without any signs of impairment again. It would take nearly five years to reestablish her life with a “new normal.”
Then, she found sport again.
“I was watching the 2012 London Paralympics on TV, just like you might have been. It was six years after my diagnosis and I was looking for a better method of activity for myself. I was so inspired by what others accomplished, I thought ‘I can do this. I want to do this. Is it possible?’”
Four years after watching the Paralympics on TV, Jennifer found herself competing at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. She placed seventh in discus. At the 2019 Parapan American Games in Lima, Peru, she claimed gold. As she looks ahead to the Tokyo Paralympic Games, she recognizes the value of sport in her life after her MS diagnosis.
“Sport has improved my athletic capacity and has made me a better person,” she says.
You can help ensure athletes like Jennifer can access sport in Alberta.