Eric Brown II

Eric Brown II started running at age seven. Bruce Kluckhohn, UW Athletics

It may seem like Eric Brown II x’19 took the road well-traveled for a college athlete: he developed a passion for his sport as early as age seven, set records in high school, and followed in his father’s footsteps. Eric Brown Sr. x’93 also ran track for UW–Madison.

But the road for Brown — who placed seventh in the 800-meter run at the Big Ten Championships last season — wasn’t always smooth. He was bullied in grade school due to a stutter, high-pitched voice, and skinny frame. He remembers his class erupting in laughter as he read aloud, bringing him to tears. And he can recite a profane song that his peers created about him. He transferred schools.

Brown then responded in three ways: he tirelessly practiced reading at home, he prayed to be “normal,” and he ran. “When I’d go on runs, I’d just forget about everything,” he says. “It was just me and the road ahead.”

High school brought a different kind of challenge. The burning lungs Brown increasingly experienced while running turned out to be asthma, partly induced by cold air. (His doctor initially recommended he consider running track for southern universities with milder climates.) But with treatment and training, Brown ran faster than ever. As a sophomore at Wisconsin Lutheran High School, he set a state record for the 800-meter run — which still stands today — with a time of 1:51.48. But when colleges came calling, skeptics followed. “Throughout life,” Brown says, “I’ve been told, ‘You aren’t smart enough’ or ‘You’ll never make it at a university like Wisconsin’ or ‘You won’t be able to survive there; it’s too hard.’ But my parents always told me, ‘Just trust in God. … Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it, or you aren’t good enough, or you aren’t smart enough.’ So I’ve always taken that approach throughout life, in academics and sports.”

And when that mindset isn’t enough, Brown knows what to do. “Nothing matters when you’re running,” he says. “It’s just freedom.”

Published in the Spring 2017 issue

Tags: Athletics, Badger, Students

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