Former Sweet Home athlete dies during cross-country race

Scott Swanson

Sweet Home alumnus Joe Brooks, a former Husky cross-country and track athlete, died Saturday, Oct. 16, after collapsing during a 5K fun run at Elijah Bristow State Park.

Brooks, 47, of Dexter, was running in the Bristow Rock N River Run cross-country event when he collapsed at about the two-mile mark. The run was part of a high school cross-country meet that included runners from Sweet Home High School and Junior High, who were in the race –_one of whom was not far behind Brooks and saw him fall.

Brooks collapsed at 11:19 a.m., according to media reports, and was unresponsive. The race organizer, two off-duty Oregon State Police troopers and a nurse, and others were at the scene. He was taken by LifeFlight to a local hospital but was pronounced dead shortly before noon.

Brooks’ parents, Bernard and Colleen Brooks, are Sweet Home residents. Colleen Brooks said her son had been a volunteer firefighter with the Dexter Fire Department for three years before his death and had undergone extensive physical testing in that role. She said the cause of death was an undiagnosed “electrical problem” with her son’s heart.

“Joe sure wasn’t aware of it,” she said. “He had had stress tests, physical tests. His blood pressure was good. He ran all the time. This was supposed to be a cinch for him.”

The Brooks family moved from California in the late 1970s, when Joe was a freshman, and he attended four years at Sweet Home High School, graduating in 1981.

“I have a ton of clippings from The New Era when he was in high school,” his mother said, noting that Joe Brooks was named Most Improved Runner at one point, competing for Coach Allan Temple.

He attended Central Oregon Community College, where he competed in cross-country and track before moving to Eugene in 1983.

There he played drums in a variety of rock groups, the Jazz Greats, Oswald Five-O, Billy Jack, the Varicoasters, Los Mex Pistols Del Norte, and Fast Eddie and the Screamers. He retired from rock ’n’roll after moving to Half Moon Ranch in Dexter and focused on raising a family with his wife Spirit, developing his skills in stone work, and riding his horses and mules. He often rode mules in Elijah Bristow State Park with his family.

Brooks was a master woodworker, and worked for many years in construction in the area, including for several large commercial outfits, his family said.

They said his true passion was being a firefighter and an EMT. He was a volunteer Lieutenant with Dexter Rural Fire District, and worked as an EMT-I for Rural Metro Ambulance. His father, Bernard, is a retired Albany firefighter.

At the time of his death Brooks was in his senior year at Eastern Oregon University, finishing a bachelor’s degree he began in the 1980’s. He was concurrently pursuing a degree in fire service administration and an AAS in fire protection technology from Portland Community College. He had attended the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Md., twice in the past year to further educate himself about firefighter safety and incident command.

He remained an avid runner, and often ran over a 100 miles a month. He was training for the Oakland Marathon when he died, his family said.

His mother said that, although no one suspected her son had a heart problem, it was probably better that way.

“I have to tell people that Joe was a guy doing what he loved,” she said. “Had this been detected a couple of years ago and he couldn’t do that stuff, he wouldn’t have wanted to live that way.”

Services are planned for 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 30, at a location to be announced. Contact the Dexter Rural Fire District at (541) 937-3045 for more information.