On March 29, a Cedarville track runnerran 29:52 for 10 kilometers, meeting the qualifying standard for the NCAA Division II National Championships for track and breaking the previous school record of 30:01 held by 2003 graduate Sergio Reyes.
On March 30, that same runner, Matt Brooker, was rear-ended as he drove home from a track meet at Cedarville, leaving him with a broken scapula, a serious concussion and an uncertainty of whether he would beable to race at the national meet in May.
Going into his March 29 race at the University of Cincinnati, Brooker was confident he was capable of running a good time. He was coming off a memorable cross-country season that fall in which he led the Cedarville squadto become the first team from the university to qualify for an NCAA championship. During the off-season, he had gotten married, and his training had progressed well.
“This was part of my plan,” Brooker said of the March 29 race. “I knew I was going to run that time. I went 30:35 in cross-country for regionals, so it wasn’t a stretch to do it on the track.”
Brooker’s plan was to run sub-30 in his race at Cincinnati, run 29:30 at the Mt. SAC Relays — a competitive track meet in California — and then see what happened at the national meet in May.
When Brooker was driving home from the March 30 track meet that he attended to help out and to cheer on his teammates, his Buick was rear-ended as he made a left turn off of Route 72 on to 794. The car that hit him was moving at full speed. It hit the driver’s side, pressing the back tire from that side of the car into the rear passenger seat.
Nobody was sitting in the back of the car, but the accident left Brooker with a broken scapula and a major concussion, strong enough that he could not remember the day or so leading up to his accident, including his record-breaking 10K the previous evening.
“I still don’t really remember the race, other than that it was hard,” Brooker said. “I kind of remember helping out at the home meet that afternoon before the accident. I’m pretty sure I was helping with the javelin.”
Because of the concussion, Brooker was not allowed to run or cross-train for three weeks. During that time, he slowly began attending classes again, working with his professors to catch up on schoolwork, tests and quizzes.
With a broken scapula and concussion, Brooker found simple things such as cooking and cleaning to be difficult. His wife, Hannah, juggled taking care of him and finishing her senior year at Cedarville. Cooking for Brooker was especially a challenge.
“With all the running I do, think of how much I eat,” Brooker said. “Cooking is almost a full job in of itself. Without Hannah, this could have been a lot harder than it was.”
Brooker said he believes Hannah is one of the biggest reasons why he was able to recover as soon as he did and also that this acciden thas had a huge impact in strengthening their marriage.
Three weeks after the accident, Brooker was cleared to begin running again. He was only allowed to run a few miles a day at first, which was a far cry from what he had been doing. But it was a step in the right direction.
“Those were probably some of the best runs of my life,” Brooker said. “It’s been a long time since I took that much time off, and I really missed running. It was frustrating, thinking about everything that I could have been doing during that time.”
Brooker was not able to run in the California Mt. SAC Relays as he had planned. This put him in somewhat of a difficult position, as his 29:52 from Cincinnati, while fast enough to qualify him for the NCAA championship meet, might not have been fast enough to get a spot in the race because only the top 20 times would be accepted.
Even with the uncertainty of whether or not he would actually qualify for nationals, Brooker, along with Paul Orchard, men’s distance coach, did everything they could to make Brooker as ready as possible for nationals.
“I had trained really hard through January, February and March,” Brooker said. “That was the bulk of the training I was going to do anyway, with April and May going to be focused on fine-tuning my speed for nationals. I had the mileage base. Missing most of April was far from ideal, but I was running again by the end of April. Coach (Orchard) and I thought that I could still pull something off at nationals, so we began doing workouts when I was healthy enough to run in the hopes that I would still qualify for nationals.”
The performance lists for the national meet were not posted until two weeks before the actual race. Brooker made it in, barely. He was seeded 18th out of 20. He finished 17th.This was not where he had planned to be, but all things considered, way ahead of where he could have been.
“I did everything I could have,” Brooker said. “I took some time after this race to think about why I ran, how, maybe even if, I was going to train this summer for cross-country. I think this accident changed some things. I
think I realize now that my training, my running, doesn’t just glorify God when I race well. Rather, it’s the process, the dedication and discipline of preparing myself to do well, is what glorifies God.”
So where does that put Brooker now? He trained harder than ever this summer for what will be his final year of cross-country, putting in seven weeks of running 130 miles per weekand many more well over 100 miles per week. Last fall he was the cross-country regional champion. This year, he hopes to repeat that and to place much higher at cross-country nationals, where he placed 41st last year.
“I’m really excited for this year,” Brooker said. “My training has been going very well, I’ve got a job lined up for next spring, and we just found out that Hannah is pregnant and the baby is due in March. A lot of people have asked me how that’ll work with Indoor Nationals. I’m not going to miss the birth of my first child.”
Greg Johnson is a senior English major and a sports reporter for Cedars. He competes on the cross-country and track teams at Cedarville.