After being told he may never be able to run again, a former student from Salford University has the same dream he had ever since he was a child: “I want to become the best middle distance runner in the world.”
2014 Commonwealth Games hopeful Niall Brooks has had his fair share of highs and lows since taking up the decision to become a 1500m athlete as a teenager in 2007, at the age of 16 years old.
Like many young boys, Brooks had a keen interest in football, but following encouragement from a PE teacher he was later persuaded to join the local athletics club.
“As I didn’t have a pair of track spikes I was told to run by myself on the grass for the majority of the session. This did not fill me with huge excitement about the sport of athletics, so I had left with the intention of returning to play football for my local team.”
This of course, was until Brooks was finally put in touch with Sale Harriers coach Norman Poole, who has led athletes to many international and Olympic Successes, and the rest they say is history.
Whilst reflecting on his early memories of the 22 year old athlete, Poole said: “The first day he turned up, Mike Rimmer (an Olympic athlete) was doing some speed work and he actually joined in for little sections of the session. It was obvious he had a good turn of pace but clearly lacked the endurance.”
Within the space of two years Brooks had already began to turn heads in the athletics world as he oozed with unbelievable natural talent, a talent which took his coach by surprise. “At first he was just an average 16 year old who liked to play football, nothing at first began to stand out.”
However with the guidance of Norman Poole, Brooks became the fastest junior in Britain for both the 800m and 1500m, seemingly overnight, clocking 1.47.99 and 3.41.64 in each event. On top of this he was selected to run at the Commonwealth Youth Games where he finished 5th in the final as well as finishing 2nd at the European Junior Championships for Great Britain.
Better yet, 2010 saw Niall Brooks seal selection for the Commonwealth Games in Delhi and finish 4th at the IAAF World Junior Championships over 800m at just 19 years of age.
“I had spent my life as just a young boy watching the Commonwealth Games on television and never dreamt I could be competing for my country in the event.”
“The whole experience really gave me an insight and more importantly an appetite into what life would be like as a professional athlete. What I will take most from the event is the experience. Staying in athlete accommodation with all of the other countries, how friendly the Indian natives were and competing in front of thousands of people was incredible.”
However, in early January 2012, Brook’s world would begin to crash down in front of his very eyes. With what started as a blocked nose, which is to be expected in the winter, escalated into huge health concerns for Brooks as his heart rate and breathing began to increase to strange levels.
“It then became so extreme that I could not run at any pace at all without my heart rate reaching levels which it normally would during a high intensity session, even if I was running at barely more than walking pace.”
After being seen by doctors at UK Athletics and cardiac specialists in London, Brooks was soon informed that his heart was actually in good working order and must have had a reaction to a virus.
This left the athlete’s career in turmoil. “The frustrating part for me was not knowing what it was, how long the recovery period was and when, if ever again, I could return to running. This remained the same way for 7 months, until signs started to improve and I could begin easy running again.”
Despite the plight of uncertainty, Brooks managed to fight his way through the toughest period of his life. “You start to feel sorry for yourself and think “why me?” You put yourself through pain in training and then the chance to be successful is taken away. It’s a very tough sport to be in mentally!”
Now, Niall Brooks is back and arguably stronger than ever. Since returning in late July, he maintained an unbeaten track record in the remaining races of the season and also anchored Sale Harriers to a national title at the six stage road relays in September.
But the hard work starts now. With selection in June, Brooks will have to be amongst the first 3 fastest 1500m runners in the country, along with a qualifying time of 3 minutes 35. Despite a long road to fitness, he is confident with his chances and will begin his quest after Christmas on the indoor circuit.
“Whilst I appreciate this is not an easy task and, theoretically given the lack of training I have had, this is probably seen by most as being unrealistic. I also think to myself setting a “realistic” goal is only limiting me to what I could achieve. I would much rather aim for “unrealistic” targets and tread on territory where others have not been before. Making the team will be very tough but I am confident for the season ahead.”