Sunday's 'Chill' to serve as a first step to better 'Way'

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Tom Kirvan
Legal News, Editor-in-Chief

The urge for self-improvement serves as a January boon for the fitness industry, where many a New Year’s resolution is launched and then oftentimes banished by the end of the month.

But this year figures to be different for several friends who are ready to toe the starting line for this Sunday’s (January 21) “Chill at the Mills 5-km” run in Rochester as part of the city’s Fire & Ice Festival.

Their collective desire to enter the event is fueled by a grand plan to tackle the half-marathon distance at the 11th Annual Brooksie Way race on September 23. That event, which also includes 10-km and 5-km races, has become one of Michigan’s top running attractions, typically drawing thousands of participants from all walks of fitness life.

Over the years, I have been among the throng of runners, invariably paying a heavy price of pain on a series of punishing hills that add spice to the 13.1-mile course. But even when I was tempted to curse the course creators, I remembered that the event was launched with a true sense of purpose.

It was February 2007, during his annual “State of the County” address, that L. Brooks Patterson unveiled plans for a county-sponsored half-marathon race.

The Oakland County Executive envisioned the event as a way to “enhance the quality of life for residents of Oakland County by promoting healthy, active lifestyles.” It would serve as one of the linchpins of a wellness initiative for county residents.

Within a matter of days, however, plans for the inaugural race would be transformed into a posthumous tribute to Patterson’s beloved son.

Brooks Stuart Patterson, affectionately known to family and friends as “Brooksie,” was killed in a snowmobiling accident in Genesee County on February 10, 2007, just three days after his father had trumpeted the inaugural race. The younger Patterson, married and the father of three young children, figured to be among the event participants. He was an avid outdoorsman and a dedicated family man, focusing his life on his wife and the couple’s three children. The 28-year-old Lake Orion resident owned a residential construction company and was “a man of deep faith who was very active in his church,” according to his father.

“He had a tremendous zest for life and loved the outdoors, enjoying skiing, mountain climbing, and the like,” said Patterson, the father of three other children. “The way he lived life was an inspiration to many others.”

His nickname, fittingly, will continue to lead the “Way” as plans for this year’s event take shape. Shortly after the tragic death, the race committee voted to name the event in Patterson’s honor.

The course begins and ends at the Meadow Brook Music Festival on the campus of Oakland University and includes parts of the Clinton River and Paint Creek trails, Rochester Hills, and downtown Rochester.

“When I first began thinking about this event, I thought all that would be involved was to get 2,000 runners to the starting line, fire the gun, and that would be it,” L. Brooks Patterson said with a hearty laugh. “I soon found out that an event of this type is a huge undertaking.”

As such, the event demands the services of a race director, along with an extensive network of volunteers and sponsors to help ensure its success. Now known as The McLaren Brooksie Way, the event has become one of the “premier road races in Michigan,” according to Patterson.

“The community has embraced the Brooksie and the proceeds are given back to the community through programming that supports and promotes healthy and active lifestyles through Brooksie Way Minigrants.”

Over the years, more than $150,000 has been awarded to grant recipients to support local health and fitness activities. The grants are awarded several times a year, said Patterson, a former Oakland County prosecutor who is now serving his seventh term in office as county executive.

Running legends such as Bill Rodgers, a four-time Boston Marathon winner, Olympic gold medalist Joan Benoit Samuelson, and Boston Marathon winner Greg Meyers have participated in the Brooksie Way, adding even more luster to the event.

As in past years, Patterson figures to have a special gleam in his eyes on race morning when he gazes out on an expected throng of runners, many wearing colorful “McLaren Brooksie Way” T-shirts emblazoned with an artsy race logo. He will be proud of all the volunteers, sponsors, and participants who teamed with him on an effort born out of the desire to promote physical fitness in Oakland County and beyond. But, of course, for a father missing a son, it will be much more than that.

“It will be a day to remember,” Patterson said.

In more ways than one.

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