He has told the story hundreds of times. But on the weekend of the Brooksie Way — the biggest event in our towns this fall — it's worth retelling L. Brooks Patterson's story of how the race came to be.
It started in 2007, when Patterson, who is in his fifth term as Oakland County executive, presented his State of the County address. Then and there he pledged to create a half-marathon event in Oakland County. He wanted to build on the popularity of the Crim in Flint and other Michigan races and get the residents of his county off their couches and onto the streets.
Patterson wasn't a runner himself — he has a bad knee — but he was committed to promoting health and wellness in the county.
So that's where the race began: Feb. 7, 2007.
Three days later, on Feb. 10, Patterson's son, Brooks Stuart, died in a snowmobile accident. He was 28 years old, an entrepreneur, a husband and a father of three.
This is the story the residents of Oakland County, whether they run or walk or watch the Brooksie Way, have grown to love: At the funeral for Brooks, during the eulogy, a family member said this:
"If you want to live life to the fullest, you have to live it the 'Brooksie' way."
That's why 5,000 people will run through Rochester and Rochester Hills on Sunday.
"He was exuberant," Patterson said of his son during an interview with Rochester Patch.
"He had a bucket list, but unlike a lot of people, he was actually doing the things on his list.
"He was a do-er. He was a skier, a climber. He went out west. He was a smart kid and he wanted to do everything."
Patterson acknowledges the similarities between his son and the "do anything" attitude of the , which works with people who have never run a step. This year there are more than 300 people in that training program; they'll run in the race Sunday.
"Some of these people went from being on the couch to, within three to four months, being runners," Patterson said.
A scenic run
This is the fourth year for the race and its popularity has grown each year.
"Oakland County was ready for a race like this," Patterson said. "Health is on everyone's mind these days. People want to stay fit. Working out is a way of life.
"More than that, the place where we have the race is popular, with the trails and the woods and the creek."
The race was ranked among the most scenic in America. Active.com, the website that handles race and sports team registrations, named the Brooksie Way one of the 11 Most Scenic Fall Half Marathons. Others included in the list: coastal races in Myrtle Beach and the Outer Banks, a "Diva" race at Vail and one through Sonoma wine country in California.
Patterson said the race committee looked at three locations before picking Rochester and Rochester Hills for the route.
"It was an easy call, really," he said.
A greater purpose
Patterson acknowledged there are a "very few" vocal people who aren't in love with race day. In truth, it's not a normal quiet Sunday morning in Rochester and Rochester Hills.
"You can't please everybody," Patterson said.
But race organizers are trying.
This year, the race committee has been diligent in educating residents. They sent fliers to homeowners with the race route. They posted the route online with details — including expected times — on traffic closures. There are signs around town encouraging residents to get informed before trying to leave the house Sunday morning.
Patterson encourages those who oppose the race to try to understand its greater purpose. Proceeds from the race go back into the community; to date the race has to support health and wellness programs in the county.
Recent recipients include OU Walks! Across America, a walking program designed for the students, faculty and staff of .
"Any organization that gives back to the community, for purposes of elevating health education or awareness, well, that's what people need to understand," he said.
The Brooksie Way Half Marathon, 5K and 1-Mile Fun Run begins at 8 a.m. Sunday on the Oakland University campus. The race route takes runners through Rochester Hills and Rochester before ending at Meadow Brook Music Festival. Rochester Patch will cover the race live, posting up-to-date information on traffic closures. For more on the race, visit the Brooksie Way Page on Rochester Patch.