Brooksie Way race honors Oakland County exec's late son, aids young offenders

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Suburban-Detroit's McLaren Brooksie Way half-marathon race recalls Brooks Patterson's late son, aids juvenile offenders

A decade ago, the half-marathon foot race — 13.1 thigh-pounding miles —  began soaring in popularity.

That's when Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson announced, in his State of the County speech, that Oakland's turf would soon host a half-marathon race he'd be bragging about. Little did Patterson know.

Moments after he finished speaking, his son — 28-year-old Brooks Stuart Patterson — pushed to the front of the crowd. Father and son then had one of their last conversations.

“He told me, ‘Dad, I’m gonna run that race.’ He died two days later,” the senior Patterson recalled last week.

Brooks Stuart Patterson, known to friends as Brooksie, died Feb. 11, 2007, when a snowmobile on which he was a passenger collided with another on a Genesee County lake. Soon, Oakland County's race planners were pushing to name the half-marathon the Brooksie Way, after they heard Patterson’s son eulogized as Brooksie and hearing at the funeral that his “way” was a bent for living life to the fullest, his father said.

This year, as the McLaren Brooksie Way half-marathon nears its 10th running on Sept. 24, the Oakland County executive said his son's namesake event far outshined his father's hope to turn private pain into public good. Beginning with a few hundred runners 10 years ago, organizers said they expect about 7,000 this month — half of them women. They'll run and walk in three races: a 5K (3.1 miles), a 10K (6.2 miles), and the original 13.1-mile distance — ranked by running magazines as one of the nation’s most beautiful half-marathons as well as Michigan’s hilliest in the Lower Peninsula.

Better still, said Patterson, expenses for the McLaren Brooksie Way are almost entirely covered by sponsors. So the proceeds of entry fees, about $30,000 last year, can be devoted to Brooksie Way Mini-Grants — a charity that funds health and fitness activities for schools, community centers, senior residences and numerous programs that serve children with disabilities, through stipends of a few hundred dollars to $2,000.

 “My thought was, if I can promote fitness in small ways across the county, I won’t see it in a year or maybe even five years. But in 15, maybe 20 years, we’ll have a healthier county,” Patterson said. Over the nine years, the grants recently exceeded $200,000, race director Deb Flynn said.

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The start of the 2015 Brooksie Way half marathon shows a knot of elite men leading while women and recreation runners begin cresting the hilltop above. (Photo: Greg Sadler Photography)

Patterson had not previously been linked to fun runs and fitness grants. The popular but often blunt Oakland County executive, now in his seventh term, had long been considered a good old boy, albeit one who'd spent time decades ago at a fashionable fat farm — the famed Pritikin Longevity Center in California — to get religion about dropping his cholesterol from years of enjoying success steaks and scotch.

When the first Brooksie Way was in the planning, “I had zero experience with this,” he said.

“I thought all you did was fire a gun and watch everybody run like hell. I found out, it’s a lot more complicated. We have close to 1,000 volunteers and numerous sponsors,” he said. Yet now, Patterson, 78, is a fitness hero of sorts to the thousands who gather each fall in Rochester and Rochester Hills to race the sylvan hills just as leaves are starting to turn.

“My husband and I have done it every year,” said Lindsay Parsell, 39, of Troy.

“It’s a very challenging race, which we love. I’ve been pregnant while I ran it. It’s just one thing we know we’re going to do every year,” Parsell said.

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And Patterson's a hero to those who get a fitness boost from the mini-grants. They include teachers at a nonprofit called Teacher’s Pet: Dog and Kids Learning Together. The small enterprise has programs at juvenile detention centers in Wayne and Macomb counties, as well as at Oakland County’s Children’s Village in Waterford.

“We put dogs that need to heal, together with kids that need to heal,” Executive Director Amy Johnson said.

Supported at the Waterford site by successive Brooksie Way grants, totaling $3,500 in 2015 and 2016, the classes match adolescents who committed crimes with shelter dogs that are antisocial, beset by canine behavior problems that make the animals unsuitable for adoption without intensive training — and lots of love, Johnson said.

After the 10-week program of dog training plus classroom instruction, the kids and animals “really bond — it’s magic,” Johnson said.

Although Brooksie Way Mini-Grants are usually dispersed to a dozen or so programs each year, the entire $30,000 pot last year went to one place — Rochester Hills’ new park, called Innovation Hills. Within the park, the cash was earmarked for building a riverside fitness trail to be called the Brooksie Way, said Ken Elwert, director of parks and forestry for Rochester Hills.

The trail will be "further recognition of Brooks Stuart," Patterson’s son, and "a recognition of the partnership that we as a city have with the Brooksie Way race,” Elwert said. Indeed, the race couldn't happen without the city's help nor without residents' willingness to be marooned in their subdivisions for one Sunday morning each year while a ribbon of humanity in Lycra streams past.

There is even talk  that the new trail might someday become a part of the Brooksie Way race course, Elwert said. 

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Artist's rendering of the planned Brooksie Way fitness trail beside the Clinton River in Rochester Hills. (Photo: City of Rochester Hills)

Patterson, now in a wheelchair much of the time from injuries he sustained in an auto accident, said he would be at this year’s race start, as always, shaking hands.

“I remember the first time,” Patterson said. “I thanked everybody for coming, and then my voice started to break, and people just started to clap” in memory of Brooksie Patterson. His father added:

“I still think about him every day, but this year, I think I can get through it.”

Contact Bill Laitner: blaitner@freepress.com

About the race

HOW TO GET IN IT: There is still time to enter the McClaren Brooksie Way half-marathon or other events. And this year, middle school students can enter the 5K race for just $5. Go to www.thebrooksieway.com to enter.

HOW TO GET KUDOS: Organizers of the 10th-annual McLaren Brooksie Way half-marathon and other races want to give a special shirt and shout-out to those who've never missed a year of participation — in any of the races. About 80 runners have been identified but a few are AWOL. If you haven't been contacted, send an e-mail to info@thebrooksieway.com and plan to be a bit early for this year's race. 

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Article Brooksie Way race honors Oakland County exec's late son, aids young offenders compiled by www.freep.com

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