Nicknamed “The Mountain" by his teammates for his participation in a variety of sports,
48-year-old Willard Brooks has been an inspiration for anyone who comes within eyesight
of the mammoth 6-foot-9, 265-pound multi-sport athlete.
His story began on May 8, 1968 in Centerville, Iowa where he was born as what he
called “a standard size baby." His birthday horoscope was in some ways a glimpse into
the future. As a Taurus, his birth passage read, “General sensibility in the areas of both
the neck and throat is a characteristic of Taurus. They are more likely to suffer ailments
related to these areas."
In 1985 at age 17 and a senior at Huntsville’s Johnson High School, Brooks was not
an athlete on the school’s teams because he chose to work at Pizza Inn instead, but he
was an outstanding recreational basketball player. His talents were so obvious that he
was recruited by several top-notch basketball programs, including Villanova, Georgetown,
and Virginia. He was well on his way to a college education and possibly great playing years in basketball. But everything
changed on the cold day of December 20th.
Brooks and his two sisters were having a grand time of Christmas shopping at Madison Square Mall. As they left the
facility, their car was struck by another auto that ran a traffic signal. Brooks was sitting the backseat and the collision broke
his neck at vertebrae C6-C5. He spent several days in a local hospital fitted with the traditional “halo brace" on his head.
Doctors told him he would be paralyzed for the rest of his life. “The idea of being paralyzed was hard to accept," said Brooks,
“because I was certainly unfamiliar with the knowledge of what that meant." After extensive therapy, Brooks remained with
limited function of his arms and total paralysis of his legs. He is a quadriplegic. But his amazing will to live is no more evident
than this statement: “I don’t live my life based on my disability. I live on my ability to be successful."
Success is a hallmark of Brooks’ life. He works for the Missile Defense Agency and has been a part of an array of boards
and programs to help promote understanding of people with disabilities and show how the disabled can survive their own
misgivings and lead rewarding lives. Brooks, who has two college degrees from Alabama A&M, has helped bring wheelchair
athletics to the forefront, not only across North Alabama but also around the world. He has traveled the globe participating
in – and winning - wheelchair sports in both individual and team events. “I’ve played every sport I know of," said Brooks. “I
love to be athletic and love the competition. I’ve always felt I’m not limited to what I can do in my life."
His accomplishments in athletics are unmatched, having won an assortment of national and world championships in
both individual and team endeavors. As a member of the U.S. Paralympic teams, he has traveled the world competing many
times with and against the best wheelchair athletes on the planet. He was appointed by the Governor of Alabama to the
board of the Alabama Developmental Disabilities Council. He won the prestigious Fred Sington Award in 1996 as the state’s
Wheelchair Athlete of the Year.
A sports report about wheelchair sports on local TV in 1988 sparked Brooks’ interest in wheelchair athletics, and his
post-accident life has never been the same since. “My life got better each day after that," he said. “I couldn’t push through
day-to-day life without athletics."
He lives alone and has been living on his own since 1997. He has learned to make adaptations to match his lifestyle. He
teaches others with disabilities to make the same sort of changes for the better in their own lives. Late last year, he began a
wheelchair basketball program at UAH, persuading participants to recognize discipline, rules, and how they have to adjust
to their surroundings. He lives to see others develop.
Asked if he is his own inspiration, Brooks said, “I want to say yes, but I gain my inspiration from others. I see others
like me, and I want them to understand how to make changes. I just consider myself an average Joe, but I’m honored to be
recognized by this Hall of Fame induction."
Willard Brooks, Jr., has climbed the mountain of struggles in a remarkable life. He has never said, “What if?" He has
always looked forward toward building a championship life for himself. With his induction into the Huntsville-Madison County
Athletic Hall of Fame, he has placed another important mark on his relentless road to success.
|SPORT: ||Wheelchair Athletics|
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