It wasn’t that long ago that Lisa Brooking figured her competitive running career was over.
Having graduated from the University of Windsor in 2009 – where she ran track and cross-country – the Orillia, Ont. native did what most people do upon completing their post-secondary education: they get a job and move on with their lives.
That’s exactly what the 29-year-old runner did, moving to B.C. and beginning a career in nursing; she’s currently a critical-care nurse at Peace Arch Hospital.
She still ran recreationally, moving away from the shorter races she ran in university to longer distances, like 10Ks and half-marathons.
But a year ago, she waded back into the university fray, this time at Trinity Western University in Langley, where in between shifts as a nurse, she’s studying for her master’s degree.
She decided to join TWU’s track-and-field and cross-country teams, too, because she figured it might help her improve her road-running times.
“I thought I’d just go out there and chase some old times, and relive my university days. Everybody loves to relive those moments, even though it’s different when you have a mortgage and you aren’t living on campus, getting your food from the cafeteria,” she said.
“My mindset was that (joining the team) would make me faster on the road, and maybe I’d do really well at the next Sun Run.”
Three months later, she was one of five women on Canada’s national cross-country team.
Last year, she wore Canadian colours at the Pan-Am Cross-Country Championships in Venezuela, and made the team again this year, too, qualifying for Team Canada at national championships last fall.
Earlier this month in Florida, she placed seventh overall at Pan-Ams, and it was her time that broke a tie between Canada and the U.S. for the overall team title.
“While I didn’t have my best race, I was overjoyed because I was eight seconds ahead (of the last qualifying U.S. runner),” she said. “It’s funny how perspective can make all the difference.”
On Tuesday, Brooking – who also runs 1,500- and 3,000-m races on the indoor track schedule – boarded a plane for Uganda, where she will compete at World Cross-Country Championships.
“This is my first time at worlds and I’m thrilled. I’m very excited for it,” she said. “It’s such a really unique experience… this is an individual sport, but we get to work together.”
Brooking is self-deprecating in describing her return to competitive running – “I was just this random old person on the scene,” she laughed – but in reality, she showed up on the Langley campus with quite a pedigree, even if she jokes that it’s been so long that no one remembers it.
She was a Canadian university All-Canadian in cross-country in both 2007 and ’08 with the Windsor Lancers, and on the track, she qualified for 2008 CIS (now U Sports) championships in the 3,000-m, finishing eighth overall in the country.
While at Windsor, injuries robbed her of all but three competitive seasons, meaning she arrived at TWU with two years eligibility left.
She admits that juggling training, work and her studies is difficult, but is enjoying this running renaissance, nonetheless.
“My poor employer,” she laughed. “Everyone has been so great about it – they recognize it’s an opportunity you can’t pass up – but I’m still trying to keep life going and be a responsible adult.”
Her competitive nature now re-engaged – she told Peace Arch News she missed “the energy” of a competitive, high-level track program – Brooking not only wants to clock fast times for herself, but also for her teammates.
“I thought maybe I could help some of them get to the podium and have the kind of success we had at Windsor,” she said.
That desire to give back is also on display this week.
While in Uganda, Brooking is planning to set aside time to visit a local hospital, where she will hand over donated supplies that she brought with her from B.C.
She also has first-hand knowledge of what healthcare is like in Third World nations.
While competing in Venezuela last year, she became “violently ill” due to a parasite she picked up and ended up spending three days in a Toronto hospital on her way home to the Lower Mainland.
“At the heart of it, I am a nurse,” she explained.
“To be able to collect some things and then hand it personally to someone at a small community hospital… I haven’t travelled much, so I’m just embracing these opportunities and trying to learn about the things they go through there.
“I want to be able to make a meaningful difference.”