Cross country runner was a ‘preemie’ 18 years ago with grim prognosis

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 23 November 2017 at 10:14 am

Brook Drake shows tremendous determination on the Albion girls cross country team

Photos by Tom Rivers: Brook Drake fights off the pain in the last stretch of the Niagara-Orleans League meet on Oct. 28 at Lakeside Beach State Park in Carlton.

ALBION – Cross country meets are emotional for Tim and Kathy Drake. Their daughter, Brook, has competed the past two years for the Albion girls team.

She isn’t the fastest runner. She pushes herself through the open fields, the turns in the woods, and the steep inclines on hills along the 3.1-mile courses.

“She is amazing,” Brook’s father said. “I don’t think people realize how amazing she is. I still have to fight back the tears when I see her run.”

It was nearly 18 years ago when Brook was born 3 months premature on Dec. 1, 1999. She was a preemie that weighed 1 pound, 3 ounces. She was 10 ½ inches long.

The Drakes weren’t able to hold her because her skin was so thin and fragile. Doctors are Strong Memorial Hospital weren’t optimistic she would survive.

Mr. Drake remembers being in the hospital with about 50 other premature babies. He recalled hearing parents break down, sobbing when a son or daughter didn’t survive.

Brook could breathe on her own when she was born after 24 weeks. That was a good sign. Her amniotic fluid was infected, resulting in her early birth.

“The doctors said she would not run,” Mr. Drake recalled. “They said she would never have the lung capacity. They said to not expect too much, but too push her. She wouldn’t be like your other children.”

Brook, who has five other siblings ages 14 to 25, spent her first six months at Strong. She didn’t start walking until she was 2 ½. She had a hard time on her feet because she struggled to keep her balance.

She started talking at 4, and continues to have a stutter today. She suffered monthly grand mal seizures from when she was 4 until she was 13. Two years ago she needed significant surgery on her nose and face to correct a deviated septum.

“People have no idea what this child has been through,” her father said.

The Drakes said there were frequent trips to the emergency room due to the seizures, and the falls. With the seizures, her body would stiffen and foam would come out of her mouth.

“There have been lots of ambulance rides and hospital stays,” Mr. Drake said. “She has been through hell.”

Courtesy of the Drake family: Tim Drake’s hand is about the same size of his daughter Brook when she was born three months premature. Brook spent her first six months at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester.

For many years Brook needed a breathing machine in the morning and a night to help open her lungs. She did that until she was 13. She hated it.

Brook is in a 12:1:1 special education classroom at Albion. The district has an aide to work with her and her classmates.

Each year there is a meeting with Brook’s parents and her teachers and school administrators to discuss her IEP (Individualized Education Program). It was late in Brook’s freshman year when the school was working on a plan for her sophomore year when physical education teacher Ann Capacci suggested Brook run cross country.

Tim and Kathy Drake and pictured with their daughter Brook on Wednesday at their home in Albion.

The Drakes thought it was a farfetched idea. Mr. Drake, in particular, didn’t want to set Brook up for failure or disappointment.

“I didn’t see it happening,” said Mr. Drake, who is retired from General Motors in Rochester. “I didn’t think she would be able to breathe.”

Capacci was determined. “I want her run,” Drake recalled her saying. “Brook can run.”

Brook is 4 foot, 9 inches and wears size 3 ½ shoes. She had never competed in a sport. In August 2016, she joined the cross country team.

“I figured I should challenge myself and see what I’m capable of doing,” she said.

The first runs were at Mount Albion Cemetery, with lots of winding paths and hills in hot and humid weather.

“The first few months it was a challenge for me,” Brook said at her home on Wednesday at Oak Orchard Estates. “As it progressed, it was nothing for me.”

Many of the runners don’t last until the end of the season. The distances are too much for them.

Brook found many friends on the team.

“They don’t care if you have a disability,” she said about her teammates. “They take you in and we always talk. They are super nice to me.”

She also has found freedom in running.

“Cross country has changed my life for the better,” Brook said. “It has made me a better person. I have gone from never doing anything to where you’ll never see me not doing anything.”

Brook ran track last year, but didn’t enjoy it as much as the cross country. In track, the distance is shorter and the runners are confined to an oval. Brook likes the all-terrain, cross country courses.

“I just want to run more and more and more,” she said.

She was back for a second season this year, and set a personal best with 26:39 at the McQuaid meet in Rochester. She fought through a leg cramp in the league meet to finish in 28:31. Her parents could see the anguish on her face, but Brook kept going. Her father proudly notes that Brook has never dropped out of a race.

In the big races with more than 100 runners, Brook passes people throughout the race. Her parents hear her give the other runners encouraging words as she goes by them. Her father wishes she would save her breath because it takes extra effort to speak those words during a grueling race.

But that’s not Brook.

“If I’m having a bad day, she is the first one to give me a hug,” her mother said.

On Wednesday, Brook thanked her mom and dad.

“I can’t imagine my life without their support,” she said.

‘She is amazing. I don’t think people realize how amazing she is.’

Mr. Drake apologized to Brook for his reluctance in having her join the cross country team.

“I failed her in giving her the encouragement,” he said. “I didn’t think she could do it.”

Tim and Kathy Drake both praised the early intervention services Brook received at Rainbow Preschool. That helped Brook make big gains in speech and walking.

The cross country running has Brook open to trying other sports and planning for her future. Brook wants to be more involved in the school. She is trying basketball cheerleading, although she said the choreography and cheers so far are very challenging. But she is determined to learn the steps and cheers.

She is a junior and has another year of cross country. Then she wants to go to college to study photography.

“I know I can do it once I set my mind to it,” she said.

Her parents want to stop back at Strong Memorial to thank the nurses and doctors for their care when Brook was so little.

“I want to take her (running) stats to Strong to show them what she did, and show them who they helped save,” Mr. Drake said.

Brook Drake, far left, and her teammates are lined up at the start of the Orleans-Niagara League meet last month.

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