Founder of CSUN’s Brown Center Honored by Swimming Hall of Fame

California State University, Northridge kinesiology professor emeritus Sam Britten, founding director of CSUN’s Center of Achievement through Adapted Physical Activity and Abbott and Linda Brown Western Center for Adaptive Aquatic Therapy (Brown Center), received the 2015 John K. William Jr. Adaptive Aquatics Award for establishing the Brown center.


Sam Britten helps lower client into one of the pools in the brown center. -Photo provided by the College of HHD

The award will be presented to Britten, on Friday, June 19 during the International Hall of Fame’s 51st Annual Honoree Weekend in Santa Clara, California.

Britten said credit for the honor goes in part to Charles Lowman, the “father” adaptive aquatic therapy.

“I had the good fortune of meeting and working with Dr. Charles Lowman, a famous orthopedic surgeon, who was a great proponent of the use of water exercise for rehabilitation purposes,” said Britten. “In 1952, the Los Angeles Unified School District opened the Lowman School Special Education Center, named in honor of Dr. Lowman. The center was dedicated to serving children with severe disabilities, and it included the first adapted aquatic facility in the L.A. School system. Because of my swimming background, Dr. Lowman asked me to teach the Adapted PE instructors how to work with the children in this wonderful new aquatic facility.

“To see and experience how effective water exercise was for these children was truly life changing for me,” Britten said. “In my heart and mind, I was determined that if the opportunity ever developed in my future professional life, I would endeavor to build an adaptive aquatic facility that would serve all people with physical disabilities.”

Established in the early 1990’s by the Adaptive Aquatics Committee of the International Swimming Hall of Fame, award honors an individual who has made significant and substantial contributions to the field of adaptive aquatics (aquatics for persons with disabilities) as a participant, athlete, teacher, instructor, coach, organizer, administrator or media representative.

“S. R. Smith –a world leading manufacturer of commercial and residential pools, as well as ADA compliant pool lifts providing disabled people safe access to aquatic activities– is honored to recognize the life contributions of Dr. Sam Britten, for his outstanding work and commitment to the aquatic health of persons with disabilities,” said Dan Jorgensen, an Olympic gold medal-winning swimmer and vice president of sales at S.R. Smith, in a press release from the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

After becoming a kinesiology professor, in 1958 at what was then San Fernando Valley State College, Britten created an adapted physical education program, which later became the Center of Achievement for the Physically Disabled. There, he worked with injured athletes as head trainer and worked with students with disabilities who were enrolled in his adapted classes.

In 1971, Lillian Bixby, a woman paralyzed with cerebral palsy, was the first student with a severe disability to approach Britten with a request that he develop exercises that would help her to gain movement and control of her arms. Excited about the challenge and fueled by the hope of making Bixby’s life better, Britten started her on the long, hard and sometimes painful journey.

By the time Bixby left in 1977 she had achieved her goal of being able to live independently and drive a van. Her success in Britten’s care was a turning point for him and the center.

“Over the years, in his work with students and clients in land-based adaptive therapeutic exercise programs, Britten came to see that exercise in aquatic environments could bring even greater progress to people with disabilities,” said Sylvia Alva, dean of CSUN’s College of Health and Human Development. “In the late 1990s, he drew up plans and began rigorous advocacy and fundraising efforts to make this vision a reality.”

In 2003, the 18,400-square-foot Abbott and Linda Brown Western Center for Adaptive Aquatic Therapy opened its doors. Four pools, each designed to meet specific needs, bring clients the buoyancy of water and reduced risk of pain. The aquatic facility established new educational training opportunities for CSUN students and made physical activity available to even more community members with physical disabilities, including small children and infants.

“You wouldn’t know how big it is from the outside,” said Becky O’Brien, client coordinator for the Center of Achievement’s Brown Center, motioning to the center’s four state-of-the art pools. “Clients are always amazed when they walk through our doors for the first time and realize this is all for them, and this is all because of Sam. This whole center is here because he dreamed it, and it’s truly wonderful that he got to see his dream come full circle, and be recognized for it.”

“Dr. Sam Britten exemplifies the ideals of the highest quality of adapted aquatics exercise programs,” said Alva. “A trustworthy, reliable, honorable and earnest person in his academic and community pursuits, Sam is also caring and compassionate, driven by a desire to see others not only achieve their health and fitness goals, but to find happiness. His history and reputation across campus reflect these same characteristics.”

Britten said the addition of the aquatic component has completed the offerings of the Center of Achievement and provides an excellent model for colleges and universities of the future to emulate.

Taeyou Jung, director of CSUN’s Center of Achievement through Adapted Physical Activity and and a professor in the Department of Kinesiology in the College of Health and Human Development, said he and his colleagues were thrilled to learn Britten was getting the honor. “I believe this is a token of appreciation and acknowledgement of Dr. Sam’s lifelong dedication and contribution to developing adapted aquatics programs for helping people with disabilities,” said Jung.

Britten himself was humble about receiving the honor. “CSUN allowed me to develop this unique program and area of special expertise in the field of adaptive aquatics and aquatic therapy,” said Britten. “I am so grateful to all the people that supported me and believed in this project. This award is truly a great honor.

“Since the Brown Center opened in 2003, it has provided restoration and relief for thousands of additional people traumatized through accident or disease, to rebuild their lives and be mainstreamed back into society,” he said. “The tremendous success of the center has resulted in an increasing local, national and international recognition. I believe the work that we have accomplished in therapeutic and adaptive exercise and aquatics is just beginning, and the future for this field is very promising. The Brown Center is a dream come true.”

After retiring from the University, Dr. Britten founded the Western Independent Living Foundation, Inc. A non-profit organization that seeks to improve home safety for elderly and disabled individuals. For more information on the Brown aquatic center and Britten, please visit