July 15 • 11:01 PM

'Live strong' is way of life

Popular saying is more than a motto for wheelchair athlete connected to Imlay

Wheelchair athlete Ray Brown with handful of medals he’s won in a wide variety of competitions. photo by Catherine Minolli.

January 07, 2009
IMLAY CITY — If famed bicyclist Lance Armstrong hadn't already coined the motto 'Live Strong,' the words certainly would have spilled from Ray Brown's lips.

No matter, though, because for Brown it's not just a motto. It's a way of life.

The 59-year-old record-setting athlete lives strong from the confines of a wheelchair—where his battle with multiple sclerosis sent him a decade ago.

Brown's dedication to the benefits of sport and physical fitness is stronger than any urge to give into MS, and along with personal satisfaction and accomplishment Brown's drive serves as an inspiration to athletes from around the area—able bodied included.

"He amazes us," says former body builder George Antos, who along with wife Julia own and operate Imlay City Fitness gym on M-53 where Brown works out.

Led there by trainer Robin Hill and Hill's son Josh, Brown began working out at the gym about a year ago.

"Often society turns its back on the disabled, and here they opened their arms to us," Brown says of the Antoses and their gym which sponsor him. "There's a real sense of camaraderie here, they've been wonderful to me."

As have many others in Imlay City, Brown says. Along with Imlay City Fitness gym, he's been sponsored by the Imlay City Rotary Club and the American Legion Post in his quest to compete.

"The Imlay City community has been great to me, and I thank all the people who've been there willing to help out," Brown says.

Though he's had a helping hand through sponsorships, the numerous medals Brown has won in wheelchair games and paralympic have been earned 100 percent on his own.

His accomplishments include two U.S. records in javelin and discus at the U.S. Paralympic Trials in Edmond, Oklahoma, three gold and two silver medals at the National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Omaha Nebraska, 'Best All Around Male Master Athlete' at the Michigan Wheelchair Games, 'Most Valuable Athlete' at the Ohio Wheelchair Games, and a 7th in the world ranking from the 2005 World Wheelchair Games in Rio DeJaniero, Brazil.

Along with earning numerous gold, bronze and silver medals in a variety of competitions, Brown earned the Top Gun Award and a gold medal in two-man team air rifle competition, and earned the Ernie Leach Memorial Award for the largest buck—17 points, 230 pounds after dressed—in a deer hunt for the physically challenged, and he also bagged a 23 pound turkey with a 10-and-a-quarter inch beard during the spring turkey hunt.

Brown says he does all of this and more for one simple reason:

"It beats the alternative," he says. "I see what can happen to people if they're not active in wheelchairs."

While the obvious health benefits of working out and staying fit are true for everyone—whether physically challenged or able bodied—Brown says he likes sparking the fitness fire in others like himself.

"I want to show them how to unlock the wheelchair brakes," he says.

And he does, as captain of Wheelin' Team 457, which has gone five years undefeated in the Michigan/Ohio Wheelchair Games and the 2008 Thunder in the Valley competition in Saginaw. The team's 17 members were recently inducted into the Athletes with Disabilities Hall of Fame, where Brown himself earned a spot in 2000, inducted by famed former Detroit Tigers coach Sparky Anderson.

"I like to lead by example, which helps motivate me and others," he says. "People come to us (Wheelin' Team 457) and get a sense of belonging to a team, plus it's a social thing to do."

Athletes benefit in other ways as well, Brown says.

"A lot of times you think you've got a problem and see someone else in worse condition and you say 'I don't have a problem,'" Brown says.

His latest goal is to bench press 300 in competition this year, and with the help of trainers Hill and son and Imlay City Fitness gym, he's already working in that direction.

"I did 330 in practice," he says.

Brown's also attending service officer's school to help Iraq war veterans who return home with physical disabilities.

He credits his workouts at Imlay City Fitness gym with reaching new physical heights, and says his five-day-a-week routines have helped him reach new goals.

"I've done amazing since I've been there, there are a lot of machines I can't get to in other gyms," Brown says. "It's amazing what it's done to my body and how it's helped me accomplish goals."

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