By Andrew McCracken
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Many words can be used to describe University of Oklahoma thrower Tia Brooks: student, athlete, winner, champion and Olympian are all fitting.
In the summer of 2012, Brooks found herself in some unfamiliar surroundings. She was not spending her summer break training in Norman, Okla., nor was she at home in Grand Rapids, Mich. She was in London, England, preparing to compete in the 2012 Olympic Games in the shot put.
However, as one might expect, the road to the Olympics is not an easy one, and Tia Brooks’ path was no different. In addition to all of the time and hard work spent training to be able to compete against the best in the world, the NCAA champion also had to overcome an injury that threatened her career as a thrower.
When Brooks was a true freshman at Oklahoma, she suffered an injury that had the potential to be devastating.
“I was doing some one-legged squats and then my legs went numb and I had to be spine-boarded out,” explained Brooks. “I did not know what was wrong. I went and got an MRI and that is when I found out that I had bulging discs and degenerative discs in my spine.”
While the path back to full strength would be a long and difficult one, Brooks rose to the challenge.
Brian Blutreich, Oklahoma’s assistant track and field coach who is also Brooks’ personal throwing coach, acknowledges that it took a lot of time and sacrifice in order for Brooks to recover.
“We took away all the other events,” Blutreich said. “We took away the discus, we took away the hammer and we took away the weight throw, anything that deals with rotation. That left us with just shot put. She gradually got stronger and stronger and her core strength and technique got better.”
Brooks describes that degenerative discs can be a thrower’s worst nightmare. It can end an athlete’s throwing career and even cause more problems down the road if not treated properly. She explains that while a full recovery from her injury may never be possible, she has learned to not let it hold her back.
“I have learned how to deal with it,” described Brooks. “The pain is definitely tolerable now. I know what to do with it now if it flairs up so it is not as earth shattering as it was the first time.”
How Brooks has fought and handled the injury is a reflection of the type of competitor she is. It was her hard work that gave her career new life and took her to London last summer where she stood toe to toe with the world’s elite.
“It was amazing,” explained Brooks of her Olympics experience. “Just to be able to say that I competed with the best in the world, I can’t even find the words to describe that feeling.
“The whole experience was amazing. It was overwhelming to say the least. But it was definitely an amazing experience.”
Brooks fell short of qualifying for the shot put finals in the Olympics, but the 22-year-old said she is hungry for more and has hopes of competing in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, in 2016.
“That is the plan, but it is not in my hands,” said Brooks. “A lot can happen in four years, so hopefully my body stays healthy and I can give it another go and try to get a medal.”
Even with an Olympics appearance under her belt, the fifth-year senior confesses that her fondest memories and most proud moments have taken place in a crimson Oklahoma uniform.
“I think the greatest accomplishment that I have had is being a part of the accomplishments that OU Track and Field has had,” Brooks explained. “Just the part I have had in helping to build a program and to take OU’s throw program to No. 1 in the nation. People now know that when you are from OU, that means something.
“To be able to say that I watched that happen --I would like to think that my hard work was a part of making that happen. I would say that is probably the best thing to happen to me in the past four years.”
With Brooks’ collegiate career drawing to a close, Blutreich acknowledges that athletes like Tia Brooks do not come along every day.“You’re not going to be able to replace Tia,” Blutreich said. “We have recruited very well, but we are kind of starting over. We will be good, but you just can’t replace her.”