Turning tragedies into personal bests

WSU senior reflects on past injury, six-month recovery that helped lead her back for record-shattering season



Senior shot put and discus thrower Chrisshnay Brown discusses moving on from a major injury and why she chose to come to WSU on Monday in Bohler. She came to WSU because of the challenge of being a part of the Pac-12.

KATIE ARCHER, Evergreen reporter

Unwelcome news from doctors left a road of uncertainty for Chrisshnay Brown, following the high of a historic season for the WSU track and field athlete.

It started last season when the senior thrower suffered two herniated disks in her back. Brown said this only made things worse when she continued to compete. It caused nerve damage down her legs, leaving her right leg completely numb.

“After last season ended, I wasn’t sure what was going to happen,” Brown said. “I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to do sports again.”

Brown was presented with the choice of continuing to compete or ending her athletic career. A spinal surgeon told her she could take six months off to see if her back got better, or undergo surgery with a six-month recovery. However, there was no guarantee that the feeling in her legs would return.

“My life is sports,” Brown said. “That’s all I’ve been doing.”

In high school, Brown said she participated in track and field, basketball, volleyball, football and cheerleading. Her basketball coach also coached track and field, so she joined track to stay in shape for basketball.

Brown never thought she would end up as a thrower. She started as a runner and a jumper. But when she hurt her knee her sophomore year, the throwing coach wanted to recruit her, she said.

In football, she played offensive and defensive tackle. Brown said football was her favorite sport and even though she was the only female on the team, the guys were used to having her around.

Despite her interest in football, Brown’s friends held her to plans they had made when they were younger, so Brown tried out for cheerleading her freshman year.

“I just went, and I didn’t think I was going to make the team,” Brown said. “When I made the team it was the saddest moment of my life. It was the worst season of high school. That little part was awful. I hated it.”

Since Brown is not the average size for a cheerleader, she had to buy her uniform instead of renting one from the school. She said she spent about $1,000 on a uniform she wore for about three months.

As a cheerleader with football knowledge, she said she often missed the cheers because she was watching the game. After the season, Brown swore she would never cheer again. The following year, she returned to football.

She ended up as a collegiate track and field athlete, however. So when the doctors told her about the extent of her injury at the end of last season, Brown was left wondering what was next.

Brown came from a lifestyle where she played sports frequently. When thinking about her situation, she said she struggled with depression.

“It was that choice like, ‘Do I give up on the things I have been planning to do my whole life or do I just find a new path?’ ” Brown said.

She decided against the surgery and took the six months off. For someone who earned nine varsity letters in high school, those six months were hard.

Brown stayed in Pullman for most of the summer and had some procedures done. When she went home, she said it was hard for her to not work out.

“Towards the end of the summer I was so bored,” Brown said. “I was like, ‘What do I do with my life at this time?’ ”

When Brown started working out again, she focused on her upper body. Her bench press went from around 170 pounds last year to 205 pounds this year, she said.

She continued with track because when she signed to come to WSU she felt she made a promise to the coach and never got a chance to fulfill it. She said she felt like she needed to give herself that chance.

This January, Brown put herself in the WSU history books, heaving the shot put 51-feet and three-quarters inches for the third-best all-time throw. This season, Brown has also won multiple shot put and discus events.

L’toya Cox Demus, Brown’s mother, said she is proud of the person her daughter has become and is glad that she is able to compete again.

“I was just happy for her that she was able to do what she wanted to do and what she’s always looked forward to doing,” Cox Demus said.

Brown said her mom had the biggest influence in her life. She came from a single-parent household, but when she was younger her dad was around and was very tough on her about the things she did.

As Brown grew up, her mother told her to try and depend on herself and never anyone else. She also told her she could do whatever she puts her mind to, which Cox Demus said her daughter has always done.

Brown currently is in her last semester at WSU and is about to graduate with a degree in criminal justice. Since she was young she has wanted to be a lawyer and said she liked the environment of the courtroom.

Cox Demus said Brown always had an idea of what she wanted to do.

“Chrisshnay has planned her life since she was five years old,” Cox Demus said. “She has always planned ahead of time.” 

After WSU, Brown said she will work as a corrections officer for a year in the prison in San Luis Obispo, California to save up for law school. She does not have any specific schools in mind, but she does want something in Arizona or Texas where the cost of living is cheaper than California.

Brown fought through adversity and made one of her biggest tragedies a blessing, which encourages her to keep going, she said.

“I feel like that’s what life is, it’s one big fight,” Brown said. “You’re fighting one thing after another. … It’s just fighting for what you want and trying to make peace in what it is, in the situation.”