June 9, 2012
By Cassie Gage | SoonerSports.com
DES MOINES, Iowa – In the hours following her national championship win in the shot put at Drake Stadium, University of Oklahoma junior Tia Brooks sat in the lobby of the team’s hotel crying. Brooks had been keeping the emotions inside since January, well before Friday and well before she won the indoor title in March. Every time she stepped up to compete, there was extra motivation to perform to the best of her abilities.
Just one week after setting the Oklahoma program record in the indoor shot put on Jan. 21, Brooks got a phone call from her mother that changed her life. Her grandmother, Roberta Neal, the woman Brooks says was one of the most influential people in her life, had passed away. It’s a pain she’s carried for five months.
Granny was a varsity basketball player at Lincoln High School in Forrest City, Ark., and wanted Brooks to follow in her footsteps. Neal felt Brooks could be the next Courtney or Ashley Paris, but Brooks chose track and field instead.
“She really didn’t embrace (track and field) until later in my career, when I got better at it,” Brooks said. “It was that along with seeing me enjoy it. It made me happy, and it was getting me through school and life.”
Now that Brooks’ collegiate season is over, she shifts her focus to a lifelong dream. She enters the U.S. Olympics Trials later this month as the fourth-ranked American in the event. Brooks and her coach, Brian Blutreich, share the same dream of seeing the junior in red, white and blue for the 2012 Games in London. But, there’s someone else who wanted that for her, too.
“We talked about the Olympics. I asked her to promise me that she’d be there to watch if I made it to the Olympics, and I promised her I’d do my best to get to there,” Brooks said. “Then she got sick. I don’t go home much, but when I did, that’s what we’d talk about.”
A week before Neal passed, Brooks met the Olympic A standard for the event when she threw the program record of 60 feet, eight inches at the Mosier Indoor Facility during the J.D. Martin Invitational, a mark she's since surpassed with a 62-4 at the indoor national meet. The mark guaranteed Brooks a spot at the Olympic Trials and assured the track and field community the junior was ready for the international stage.
“The nursing home had a website where you could send emails to residents. The last email I sent her told her I had met the A standard and that I had a really good chance to make the team,” Brooks said between tears. “It puts my heart at ease that I can say she knew I was going toward my dream. Whether she’s here on Earth or not, she’s there watching me. If I keep my promise, she’ll still be able to keep hers.”
Granny was on Brooks’ mind this week in Des Moines and she had quite the cheering section on hand Friday evening. For the first time in four years, Brooks’ mother, Cyd, was there to watch her daughter compete.
“Friday morning was the best,” Brooks said. “Waking up and knowing I had my family here to support me was awesome. The fact they’ve never seen me throw and drove eight hours to watch me was the highlight of my career so far.”
What they witnessed was Brooks winning her first outdoor national championship in the shot put. And hopefully Des Moines won’t be the only place they see her compete this year. There’s a promise to be kept.
“If Granny were here, she would tell me how proud she is of me,” Brooks said. “She’d tell me how happy she is I’m working to keep my promise and that she’d keep hers.”