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Best of OKC Metro All-City Preps: Why SW Covenant's Christian Brown has heart of a champion

Southwest Covenant's Christian Brown is this year's All City Prep Awards Courage Award winner. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman]
Southwest Covenant's Christian Brown is this year's All City Prep Awards Courage Award winner. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman]

Christian Brown ran toward his catcher, then leapt in celebration.

Moments later, Brown was at the bottom of a we’re-goin’-to-state dogpile. He had about two dozen teammates on top of him. He had his leg bent and his knee up near his chest.

He’d never felt better.

His parents weren’t so sure.

Yes, the tears in their eyes that April afternoon earlier this spring were happy one. Christian had pitched Southwest Covenant to a regional title and a return trip to the Class A state tournament. It was a dream come true, an almost unbelievable answer to an untold number of prayers.

There was concern, too, about him being at the bottom of that dogpile — because when your only child has been operated on more times than you care to count, there’s always a twinge of anxiety.

But in the end, everyone came out smiling.

“To watch him has success his senior year … I was thankful,” his mom, Stephanie, said.

His dad, Kyle, said, “There were lots of times I would’ve given up, that I questioned, ‘Why isn’t he giving up?’”

Still, everyone in the family knew why Christian kept playing. He wanted as many dogpiles and celebrations and moments of boundless joy as possible. He wanted to prove, too, nothing could keep him from the game he loved.

That’s why he is the winner of the Courage Award, presented last month at the Best of OKC Metro All-City Preps banquet.

Christian’s physical challenges began at birth. A nurse in the delivery room immediately heard a murmur while listening to his heart. Tests revealed a pulmonary valve had grown together, severely restricting blood flow to his lungs.

Two days later, Christian had open-heart surgery to open the valve and add a shunt.

A day after that, he had another to correct an issue with the shunt.

Later that year, in November 2000, Christian had third heart surgery that finetuned what had been done early. Despite good results and positive prognoses, doctors still weren’t exactly sure how he would progress.

“We don’t know whether he’ll be able to run without turning blue,” doctors told his parents.

Stephanie and Kyle were protective, but they didn’t want to stop their son from being a kid. They let him run and jump and play, and when he was 3 or so, Kyle started playing catch with him.

Christian loved baseball right away.

He would carry a bat or a ball or a glove everywhere he went. When he didn’t have them — at the grocery store, for instance — he would still play games with imaginary equipment and make-believe fields.

He played in rec leagues but soon joined traveling teams. Even though he was small — doctors believe his heart issues reduced the flow of nutrients needed for growth — he always played infield and hit well.

“When you would look at him and see how he was playing with what he had,” his mom said, “the size difference was crazy to watch.”

But Christian put in extra work, lifting weights and taking lessons and doing anything he could to maximize his abilities.

When he was an eighth grader, he had another heart surgery. Tests showed almost half the blood that was supposed to exit his heart was instead falling back into his right ventricle. Two problems were occurring — the ventricle was getting stretched by that returning blood, and his body wasn’t getting as much oxygenated blood as it needed, which was stunting growth.

After the surgery, Christian hit a huge growth spurt. His energy surged as well. Instead of looking pale and beat after a practice or game, he might go take extra batting practice. His parents noticed the change, even if he didn’t.

“I never felt any different,” Christian said.

His mom said, “I think he just thought, ‘This is how everybody feels. I’m not going to complain about it because I’m doing what I want to do.’”

But even after that heart surgery, Christian didn’t have smooth sailing. His freshman season was cut short by a broken thumb. His sophomore season was painful because of scoliosis; serious curves to his spine made for pain in his legs, hips and back. His junior season was stunted; offseason surgery to correct his scoliosis had a longer, harder recovery period than expected.

But pinch hitting at state with Southwest Covenant down to its last out changed everything.

“I hadn’t hit in a month,” Christian remembered. “First pitch, outside fastball, and I hit a line drive down the right-field line. It would’ve won the game. It would’ve been a walk-off hit.”

But it was just foul.

Christian eventually grounded out, and Southwest Covenant bowed out.

Riding home with his parents, Christian made a vow: “I’m going to do everything I can to help my team get back to state.”

He returned to the offseason workouts, lifting and hitting and throwing, and when Southwest Christian faced Vici in a must-win regional game this spring, he was tabbed as the starting pitcher.

Seven innings later, Southwest Covenant was going back to state and Christian Brown was at the bottom of that celebratory dogpile.

“I did my best to never give up,” he said. “The fact that I had heart surgery and broke my thumb, then had back surgery, I never quit baseball. It was what I loved to do, so I didn’t want to give that up.

“I just did everything I could to be able to continue to do what I love.”

Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or jcarlson@oklahoman.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.

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Past winners

Here’s a look at past Courage Award winners:

2018: Gabby Clabes. Born with a rare birth defect, her left leg was amputated above the knee as a toddler, but she went on to help start the swim team at Choctaw, then became a state qualifier herself.

2017: Lainy Fredrickson. A special-needs student with limited use of the left side of her body, she joined the Norman girls basketball team as a senior, and when she scored at the end of a game, she went viral.

Jenni Carlson

Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football... Read more ›

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