DIXFIELD – Jasmine Brooks didn’t have any preconceived notions about which direction to follow in track.

A strong commitment has since been forged and a career in racewalking has proved to be extremely lucrative.

Brooks’ endeavors have provided the Dirigo High School senior with an opportunity to compete on a state and national level against some of the very best athletes in the nation. The high standards that have been set are a direct result of dedication and self-sacrifice, which has been necessary in an effort to achieve her own potential.

“I started racewalking as a freshman when track season started,” Brooks said. “I never really started training hard-core or cared much about track or cross country running until I met my coach, Tom Eastler. He approached me my sophomore year and said he would like to coach me, and ever since that day, he’s changed my whole aspect on the sport.”

The thought of circling a track at a constant speed might not invoke the competitive fires in many individuals, but Brooks has proven that it can be very rewarding. Despite being small in stature, Brooks has steadily worked on being recognized as a first-class competitor.

“As with all racewalkers, there is certainly that ‘loneliness of the long distance racewalker’ syndrome,” Eastler said. “Not so many people make fun of the event anymore since the level of appreciation of the athletic effort has grown greatly in Maine and around the country. But none the less, it is an event like long distance running that takes much time and effort and total dedication. Jasmine has all of that.”

Brooks’ relative short career has already taken her to venues and competitions that have provided life-long memories. These experiences are certainly not being taken for granted because Brooks realizes all of it could be taken away at any time.

“My inspiration among all things is my life if you choose, and you just keep getting better and better,” Brooks said. “Also, meeting so many Olympians, and aspirations upon my career, and making the Junior National Team for the 10k. It was great, all the trips I go on, are so fun, as well as meeting so many new people.”

Coach saw potential

Brooks had initially started racewalking as a way to participate, however, no one could have envisioned what would transpire. Eastler had actually spotted her a year earlier, but it wasn’t until the following year that he approached her parents, Randy and Kathy Brooks. The conversation centered about training Jasmine at no cost.

“What I saw was very good technique, that still had lots of room for improvement,” Eastler said. “She has a fierce determination that marked her as a winner. I introduced myself and offered that she would be a national champion, given a bit of coaching and the opportunity to compete against the best in the country. They introduced her to me and I offered to coach her and that was the beginning of an outstanding two years of improved walking.”

Brooks and several other Mainers have traveled together throughout the nation, including Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Nebraska and California. The events vary in length from 3 kilometers to two miles.

The Peru native eclipsed a new personal best this year at the Nike Indoor National Scholastics race. Brooks, who had won the NICS the previous year, covered the two miles in 7 minutes, 25.74 seconds for second place.

Walk, don’t run

In racewalking, the objective is maintain a fast walking pace. There are rules about technique. A competitor can’t lose contact with the ground. One foot must be on the ground at all times and the advancing leg must be straightened (no bend in the knee) from the moment of first contact with the ground until in the vertical position.(when it’s starting to move back behind the body).

There are judges around the track to make sure each entrant adheres to proper form.

“I am about 5-3′,” Brooks said. “It doesn’t matter how tall or short you are, if you have the form down, that’s what makes you go faster. Coach Eastler keeps me motivated, in addition to all the trips I go on, and all the people I’ve met along the way. I love the sport, it has done so much for me, and I have come so far to quit now. Racewalking is something you can do your whole life.”

Racewalkers are normally mild mannered, but even Brooks and her fellow competitors raced forward when their passion was threatened. Last year, the Maine Principals’ Association had proposed to eliminate the event from outdoor track.

“It really was a terrible thing,” Brooks said. “I couldn’t believe that they would actually eliminate the event.I know so many people who enjoy the sport. We each wrote a letter and try to stop them from voting it out.”

Brooks has also put forth an extra effort academically and her performances on the track have also drawn interest from the University of Wisconsin at Parkside and California University of Pennsylvania. The coaches at both institutions have trained several Olympians and All Americans.

“I’m going to major in either sports nutrition or sports management,” Brooks said. “My grades are all right, but I’ve been focusing on them more this year. Currently, they are the best they have been in awhile.”

Brooks certainly is familiar with how intertwined academics and athletics have been for fellow Mainers. Adam Staier, from Farmington, is a freshman on scholarship in Pennsylvania.

Other collegiate walkers from Maine include Ben Shorey, Anne Favolise, Amanda Bergeron and John Chasse.

Dan Campbell of Caribou and Troy Clark of Lisbon have shown promise and Mark Dennet of Winthrop will be coached next year by former Olympian Maryanne Torrellas in Connecticut.

“Jasmine is a quiet young lady who has never been an extrovert and is very humble in her daily existence,” Eastler said. “But, when she gets on the track, watch out. She turns into a fierce competitor and mows down the field by walking smart races. She paces herself beautifully, and kicks in like the wind.”

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