Steve Brown tells My Icon how wheelchair rugby made him the person he is today
Watch Steve Brown in the new series of My Icon, showing at 6.15pm on Tuesday on Sky Sports Mix (Sky channel 121). All episodes of My Icon are available On Demand
By Gemma Louise Stevenson
Last Updated: 25/09/18 3:30pm
Everyone deserves to find the place and the activity where they can truly excel - that's Steve Brown's take on inclusion.
"It's not just people with disabilities that always feel they don't quite fit in. For people that maybe struggle with their confidence, their self-belief - whether that's through disability or other things - you've got to find a corner where you feel like you can be yourself, and feel strong."
For Brown that corner was found in wheelchair rugby, a sport in which he not only excelled in terms of skill, but one that also took him all the way to captaining the full Great Britain squad at the London 2012 Paralympics.
The Kent native grew up playing all kinds of sport - "school was very sport orientated" - playing football during lunch times, counting down the hours until PE lessons, and even arriving early every day to compete against his friends and classmates.
But it was only after an accident in 2005 which left him with a spinal injury that he discovered the sport where he was to make his name.
"From playing football, cricket and rugby, I now found myself in a wheelchair and really quite worried - not just about my future, but also how I was going to carry on with those sports. Wheelchair rugby became my calling," Brown tells the new series of My Icon, back on Sky Sports screens to mark National Inclusion Week.
"When you're in hospital, everything is flat and safe and easy, but wheelchair rugby is a full contact sport and it's the first time I'd seen people in wheelchairs arguing and being aggressive, crashing into each other," he explains. "I thought, 'this is for me!'
"It started off as not so much a sport that I thought I was going to have a career with, but it's the same as when you go and do your Sunday league football or you join a pool team, or whatever your sport is. That's how wheelchair rugby started for me."
From club success to national team captain
It took years of hard work and dedication to the sport before Brown claimed his GB vest, but that period spent doing the groundwork - learning the sport and showcasing his ability to work as part of a team in the national domestic league -helped him develop the skill he needed to play for his country. It also got him noticed by one of the GB coaches who saw potential in him.
"It was having somebody else believe in me that helped me find the motivation to push myself and get to training daily, eat the right food and work out the way I had to," he says. "And it was always ringing in the back of my mind about this GB coach, who knew everything about the game, telling me I had potential. That was a massive spur for me."
Once Brown made it into the GB squad, his next milestones included winning gold at the 2007 IWRF European Championships and then getting asked to captain his country at a home Paralympic Games.
"It's hard to put into words what being captain at London 2012 was for me," says Brown.
"And that wasn't because of the crowd and it wasn't because of the event itself. It was to know that this team trusted me to lead them through maybe the team's biggest competition of our generation. A home Olympics and Paralympics - and I was captain of that.
"But there's no doubt about it, being in front of that home crowd and being there with a team of players that you know would do anything for you... That wasn't just about playing the sport. This was about the understanding we had of each other, how we put differences aside, came through thick and thin times, the arguments - only because of our passion for the sport did we not see eye to eye - but we'd work it all out, we'd compromise and we'd come together to go out as an absolutely united team. That is something I'll never forget."
Life after rugby
Shortly after 2012, Brown retired from the international aspect of the sport, although he still remains heavily involved in it as a player and also the Director of wheelchair rugby for Canterbury Hellfire.
I know that I wouldn't be who I am today if it wasn't for the opportunities of sport.
"Coming away from wheelchair rugby and starting to look at other areas of life was a really tricky moment for me because I was giving up something I loved and I was good at," Brown said.
Then, after a phone call inviting him to become part of a punditry and presenting team while out with his brother, he found that a new career beckoned in broadcasting.
Now 37, he's also had the chance to explore one of his other great loves and to realise an ambition that he's had from childhood - to become a wildlife presenter.
"I started to realise that the skills and the attributes that I'd learned as an athlete - about teamwork, discipline, timekeeping, thinking about the way that you speak to people - had these other roles and other areas of life where I could transfer those to and use them in their entirety in other things," he said.
"What I learned through sport about myself and about interaction and about leadership is now something that I can carry into everything else that I do.
"I know that I wouldn't be who I am today if it wasn't for the opportunities of sport."
Don't miss Steve Brown on the latest series of My Icon from 6.15pm on Tuesday - All My Icon episodes are also available on Demand.