Ivanna Brown is a half-British, half-Jamaican Air Force Veteran who joined the military on a green card before earning her U.S. citizenship. Influenced by her stepfather, who was American and also in the Air Force, she joined the military at age 19 after graduating high school in Germany. At 25 years old, her military career tragically ended after a car accident left her paraplegic.
Despite conforming to the strict physical fitness standards of the military, she never considered herself an athlete. Before the accident, her preferred form of exercise was hiking or walking in the desert. Now a two-time participant of the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic, her opinion is starting to change.
“The clinic was life changing. We call it magic on the mountain,” said Brown. “I don’t even remember all the sports I’ve tried—self-defense, rock climbing, hand cycling, kayaking, tennis—and of course downhill skiing.”
Because of her exposure to various sports at the clinic, she now participates regularly in dragon boat racing and a rowing club. She also hand cycles every day where she finds both mental and physical liberation, likening the feeling to that of what runners must feel.
Despite being invited to the clinic by her recreational therapist repeatedly more than 25 years, Brown attended for the first time just two and a half years ago. When asked about attending, she always had a ready excuse, including her favorites “I’m not an athlete” and “I don’t like the cold.” In saying yes, she found the camaraderie, pride and sense of purpose she found in the military.
“When you get medically retired, it’s like all of a sudden you get kicked out of the family or a club,” said Brown. “Going to the clinic was the first time I had been around so many highly motivated, happy Veterans of various challenges just doing stuff and making things happen. It felt like I was in the military again.”
With her voice thick with emotion, Brown describes the experience as a big family reunion. She recounts meeting new people with similar interests and backgrounds, with which she gladly remained in touch. She also acknowledges the irony that there is nothing that she’s tried that she didn’t like.
“It really is something special,” said Brown. “When I went back the second year, I never gave away so many hugs and kisses before.”
The clinic is hosted by VA in a partnership with Disabled American Veterans, or DAV, every year. Participation is open to active-duty service members and Veterans with spinal cord injuries, orthopedic amputations, visual impairments, and certain neurological problems and disabilities. For more information about the winter sports clinic, visit www.wintersportsclinic.org
Brown is one of 10 women Veteran athletes on display at U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers around the country in March, to coincide with Women’s History Month. Through this exhibit, VA hopes to increase awareness of women Veterans and to encourage women Veterans to choose VA to support their health and wellness goals.
Ivanna Brown is one of 10 athletes selected for the Women Veteran Athletes Initiative. The participants represent all branches of the armed services, and were selected by VA and its partners — the Veterans Canteen Service, Team Red, White & Blue, the Semper Fi Fund and Comcast. Visit the Center for Women Veterans website to see photos of each athlete by Veterans Portrait Project photographer Stacy Pearsall. Find more on social media at @deptvetaffairs (Twitter, Instagram) and @VAWomenVets (Twitter, Facebook) and by following #WomenVetAthletes.