Former professional athlete, Lynley Brown, sets herself new challenges as an amputee

Amputee Lynley Brown leaving the water on crutches following her part in the 2017 Port Of Tauranga Half Ironman.

Amputee Lynley Brown leaving the water on crutches following her part in the 2017 Port Of Tauranga Half Ironman.

Lynley Brown has mystified the medical profession more than once.

Her journey from age-group ironman champion to professional athlete to amputee is a storied one, punctuated with challenges and unbounded positivity. 

Living with the rare childhood condition, Perthes disease, that is more common in boys than girls, led to "immense" hip pain and ruled out any running or jumping.  Even the school jungle gym was a no-go zone.

Amputee Lynley Brown on her mountain bike using her prosthetic.

Amputee Lynley Brown on her mountain bike using her prosthetic.

Being confined to the sidelines was a tough experience for the youngest child in a very sporting family.

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Brown was finally given the go-ahead to get involved with sport in her early teens.

"My specialist said go out and try some sports, and I wanted to do anything that I could really, so he said if you do a sport one day and the next day you are sore, you know that's not the sport for you," Brown said.

Brown settled on rowing. She had success with her Westlake Girls High School crew in the mid-1980s as they became the first under-19 winners of the women's equivalent of the Maadi Cup.

After years of rowing, for school and club, Brown was ready to try something new.

"I decided to test my body out, test those hips out, to see if I could run and I thought I would do a marathon."

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Brown ran the London Marathon and transitioned into triathlon with the North Harbour Tri Club.

She won her first world age-group ironman title in 2001 in Kona, Hawaii and promptly turned professional.

The highlight of her professional ironman career came in 2004 when she won Ironman Coeur d'Alene in Idaho after finishing second at Ironman New Zealand that same year.

Then her hip troubles returned.

"I had to deal with arthritis in my hips which I was warned of as a child would unfortunately develop some stage, maybe in my 50s."

Instead Brown needed both her hips replaced by the time she was 36.

This year it is coming up to her 10 year anniversary for her right hip replacement and nine years for her left.

In 2014 Brown thought she would come out of retirement and swim, bike and walk/run Ironman New Zealand.

A month prior to the race, Brown began experiencing back pain. She started, but was unable to complete, the race she was competing in with her husband Jason. "That is unfinished business."

"What I found out a couple of months later was that I actually had an infection in my spine, an infection I didn't know about while doing that ironman."

The infection had eaten away at her bone. The doctors suspected the cause was tuberculosis.

"I was treated for TB because that was the only thing they could really pinpoint towards, it hasn't been proven [that it was TB] but unfortunately I had to pretty much bear the brunt of that for a little bit."

But there was more to come.

Spinal surgery in May last year, to fix the hole in her vertebrae, went awry.

Brown says during the procedure the common iliac vein, that comes down into the groin and splits into the legs, was nicked which caused clotting.

"Not that we were to know that, they patched me up at the time and sent me home.

"Nine days later I got out of the shower and I couldn't breathe. I had pulmonary embolism and they say if I had left it 12 to 24 hours before calling an ambulance, I wouldn't be here."

Blood thinning drug, heparin, was administered. Heparin is so common that less than 1 per cent of the population are allergic. However, Brown's body reacted to the drug.

"My left leg swelled up quite substantially, quite quickly. Apparently the vascular team were scratching their heads at one point. The head honcho was asking his team if they had any ideas what to do next."

What followed was a below-knee amputation. On her 44th birthday.

"I figured I was going to approach it as a new year, a new beginning and a new life as far as being mobile was concerned."

Brown's family say she remained in good spirits throughout the ordeal.

"Every day of the time that she was in hospital, every procedure, she came out of it with a smile on her face and that is the attitude that she has got," her Dad Murray Allison said.

Brown describes herself as realist.

"We learn from life, I certainly learnt when my Mum died, when I was 20, that you need to live life to the full. That was probably the biggest lesson for me. I do believe that everything happens for a reason, but sometimes it would just be nice to know why," Brown said.

In January, Brown competed as part of a team in the Port of Tauranga Half Ironman. The team finished second.

Brown is now aiming towards an ironman race in 2019. She could well be the first below-knee amputee to compete in this event.

"It's not about being the first to do anything, it's more about my journey and what I would like to do. So many people have asked me whether I want to go to the Paralympics in 2020 but I have no desire to go to that high-performance level again."

Although her racing is limited, Brown, who lives on the Kapiti Coast, is still involved in the triathlon world as a coach. Over the past 10 years she has mentored more than 50 athletes - a role which gives her great satisfaction.

By sharing her story, as she did with Auckland's Milford Rotary on April 18,  Brown says she hopes to inspire others.


 - Stuff

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