Lance Brooks made sure he was on his school’s track team, even if it wasn't offered.
As an eighth grader in New Berlin with a desire to compete in every sport possible, Brooks was a one-man show. The school board even recognized him as the (entire) track-and-field team, and his family funded his meets.
Brooks' family always knew he had potential, but he never expected it would lead him to Olympic status.
Brooks, 28, qualified to compete in the 2012 Olympic Games during the Track and Field Olympic Trials, throwing a personal record discus toss that beat out competitors by nearly six feet.
Still, Brooks’ athletic experience is not like many typical Olympians.
As a high school student, he was a do-it-all athlete playing baseball and basketball, forcing track to side-gig status during down time.
“When you’re from a small town you have to do everything you’re good at,” said Brooks, and he did.
The 6-foot-6 athlete went to Millikin University in Decatur to play basketball and had dreams of becoming professional. After basketball season ended, there were roughly three weeks left in the track season, and he did his best to compete in some events.
“It wasn’t really a mandatory thing for me, it was just something I did when I could,” he said.
It wasn’t until after college that the basketball star began getting calls for track. Whether it was his 7-foot wing span, his tall stature or his athletic ability that made him so ideal for the discus event, he’s not sure, but people wanted him to train.
Four days after receiving a call that enticed Brooks to train in Denver, he left the New Berlin countryside and made his way out to Colorado.
“It was very spontaneous on my part, and I do miss my family, but it’s paid off so far,” said Brooks. “I didn’t really think much of [the sport] and I didn’t know much. It was just kind of one of those things that just kind of fell into my lap and I just took a chance and did it.”
His newfound dedication to track didn’t begin right away. Brooks still managed to put track-and-field on the backburner as he disguised his athletic life with odd jobs as a bouncer, construction worker, bartender and high school coach working 60 hours a week to pay his bills, and training in his “spare” time.
“It’s just what I have to do,” said Brooks. “You have to walk that fine line of doing really more than your mind can withstand. Sometimes I think ‘man if I didn’t have to work this much how much better could I be?’ but I have to do what I have to do to make ends meet.”
That was how it has always been for Brooks. Growing up, he used his farm work each day as a workout and could never fully dedicate himself to one sport, limiting his training to in-season only.
“Growing up in a small town that’s the sacrifices you make,” said Brooks. “If I went to a bigger school it would probably be totally different. I would probably just have a job right now or be playing basketball overseas, but I sacrificed my basketball dream and career for another and it’s paid off. It really makes you think what the possibilities can be.”
Although he’s grateful for his success in the track and field sport, Brooks wishes he knew he could do it sooner.
“You can’t just do it for three months during the season. It has to be full-time,” he said. “It took me a lot longer to see my potential versus other kids who started in high school. I only have a limited number of years left for throwing and I want to make the best out of them.”
It doesn’t get much better than the Olympics.