Ronald Brookins was a middle school football player who took up track to stay in shape in the offseason. All these years later, he's still running fast and jumping high - with an eye on competing at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
As a Hornet, he won 14 Big Sky Conference event titles, including an unprecedented four consecutive championships in the 110-meter hurdles. He was a three-time NCAA All American and still holds Sacramento State records in three hurdles events: the indoor 55-meter (7.28), the indoor 60-meter (7.75) and the outdoor 110-meter (13.42). And three of his Big Sky championships were in the long jump.
He won a bronze medal in the 110 hurdles at the 2011 World University Games in Shenzhen, China, and, more recently, finished fourth by a heartbeat in the same event at the 2014 Mt. SAC Relays in Walnut.
Brookins grew up in San Diego and graduated from La Mesa's Helix High School in 2007. He visited Sacramento State on a tour of potential colleges.
"I loved the campus. It's beautiful. It was so different from San Diego, which is what I was looking for," he says. "And then I met Kathleen Raske (Sac State's director of track and field, and cross country), and I could tell she was what I needed in a coach.
"Running track at Sac State, I learned the importance of dedication. I learned about adversity when it came to the bigger meets. I had some bad competitions at key times, and it taught me a lot about myself and how to handle myself. I learned how to be in my own space and my own head, and to be prepared."
Brookins, who is sponsored by the nonprofit National Athletic Institute, lives in San Diego and works out at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista. He was back at Hornet Stadium for the USA Track & Field Championships in June 2014, where he met up with former Hornet teammate and fellow Training Center athlete Lea Wallace.
Wallace, a top middle-distance runner, says her favorite memories of Sac State were winning Big Sky Conference championships. "Our team was rockin' it when Ronald and I were here," she says. "We were a part of the beginning of Sacramento State really dominating the Big Sky Conference."
"Yeah," says Brookins, "and I would say it was more for the women. They were killin' it. We (the men) won conference my freshman year, and then we had a very bad next year with some injuries. I remember it being a roller-coaster ride - really up and down for a while. And then we started building back."
While the Hornet women consistently have dominated the Big Sky Conference - winning the outdoor championships for six consecutive years (2008-13) and capturing the indoor title four times (2008, '10, '11 and '13) - the men won the indoor conference championship in 2007 and '08, then suffered through a long drought.
"But my senior year," Brookins says, "the girls and the guys both won indoor and outdoor, and it was a huge accomplishment, because we randomly got the Big Sky Outdoor Track & Field Championship back at Sac State, and we ended up sweeping the title and destroying the other teams by record points. It was a very great day," he says with a laugh.
Now, he's enjoying his life as a professional athlete.
"When I was a kid, I never dreamed about doing this. I was more like, I want to go to school and get a real job," he said. "Once the option presented itself, I was definitely going to pursue it, whether I was making a million dollars a year or barely making enough to live. I'm going to do it for as long as I can."
In anticipation of life after competition, Brookins is studying for the California real estate broker's exam, and he plans to return to school - perhaps Sacramento State - to earn a master's degree in accounting and then become a certified public accountant.
"And I know that one day I'll also be coaching track and field at the high school or college level," he says. - Dixie Reid