Cam Brown has yet to begin officially leading Orange Coast College crew, but the program's newly hired coach is already leading by example.
Brown, 33, comes to OCC from Oklahoma City University, an NAIA school for which he was the men's varsity coach the last five years.
For the last six years, he has also been an assistant coach at the National High Performance Center, based at the U.S. Olympic training site in Oklahoma City.
The Australia native came to the United States in 2007 and had a stint as the strength coach for the Memphis Redbirds, a triple-A minor league affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals.
But it was early in his tenure at OCU that his health took a sudden and serious turn.
"It happened in the space of 12 hours," Brown said of the rare Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a potentially deadly muscle disorder that occurs when the body's immune system mistakenly attacks the nervous system. "I went from fully functional to being a quadriplegic from the neck down. It was quite alarming."
Brown said he has regained nearly full function from the illness, diagnosed four years ago Wednesday, that put him in a wheelchair for two years. He used walking braces and crutches to get around for another year, but he has been "device-free" for almost a year now.
"For the most part, the condition is temporary, but in some cases can be fatal," Brown said. "The majority of people [afflicted] do experience full recovery, and that is what I am aiming toward. A lot of times, recovery comes within 12 months to two years, but in my situation, it is taking longer. I still have a little residual weakness in my feet and ankles, but my only limitations are running and jumping."
Brown, who won a gold medal in the lightweight four and a silver in the lightweight pair at the 2004 Australian national championships, said the illness allowed him to test his own theories about being competitive in all aspects of life.
"My mindset has always been, if you do something, you should do it the best you can," said Brown, who will also be a full-time teacher at OCC. "If you can't do it the best you can, there is really no point in doing it at all. When it comes to recovery, that was the mindset I had. I always believed I was going to get better and that it was a temporary hurdle. I said 'Let's get through it and keep going.' From a coaching perspective, everything is a process. You have to have a goal, and following the process is how you achieve that goal. Once you make your mind up to achieve a certain goal, you can't stop until you get there. I definitely have that determination."
Brown's coaching philosophies helped OCU make history last season, when the program won the Western Sprints regatta in Sacramento to earn its first automatic qualification into the Intercollegiate Rowing Assn. national championships.
Brown said three of his former OCU rowers left Tuesday for South Korea, where they will represent the United States in the World University Games.
OCU created a Perseverance Award that it presented to Brown at the athletic department's recent year-end banquet.
Brown, who takes over for Paul Prioleau, who guided the program for five seasons, said he is excited to continue the strong rowing tradition at OCC.
"I'm definitely not re-inventing the wheel [at OCC]," Brown said. "I am very excited about the position and I think it will be an excellent opportunity to continue the culture of winning there and, hopefully reaching new heights. I think it's a perfect fit for me and, being from Australia, I love the beach, so the location is an added bonus."
Brown is planning to begin workouts for the 2015-16 season in August and is encouraging prospective rowers to contact him at (405) 761-9932, or the OCC Boathouse (949) 645-3505.
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