Mitchel Brooks struggles with autism.
But the senior from Mason has struggled much less with something most people struggle a lot with — running in general and running long distances specifically.
“He’s known around Mason now as that kid that’s always out running,” Mason cross country coach Charles Miller said. “He runs between like 12 to 20 miles per day.”
Brooks says, “I just love to run. I just got into it, and realized I really enjoyed it.”
He has improved from a fastest 5-kilometer (3.1-mile) cross country time of 22:03 as a freshman to 20:38 as a sophomore and 19:25 last year.
“When he came in as a freshman, he was super quiet, and wouldn’t really talk to anybody,” Miller said. “The group would be here, and he’d be off over there.”
Autism affects a child’s ability to communicate and interact with others. It is now prevalent in 1 out of every 54 male children, according to a March 2012 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on the Autism Society of Michigan’s website.
Brooks was admired and respected by the group of runners who helped Mason to a Division 2 state title when Brooks was a freshman. The group that included all-staters Tanner Hinkle, Joe Cecil, Alex Whitmer and Mason VanDyke was first impressed when Brooks ran 12 miles as a workout on his own halfway through that first cross country season just weeks after he started running for the first time.
“They have a lot of respect for him just because of the mileage that he puts in,” Miller said. “I don’t care how fast he is. They understand what it takes to run those kind of miles.”
In his three most recent races this fall, Brooks has been the Bulldogs’ fifth runner and a varsity scorer. He broke 20 minutes for a third time with a 19:48 in the Spartan Invitational bronze division race Friday.
“I made him a captain this year just because everybody has so much respect for him,” Miller said. “He’s not a rah-rah guy that’s going to get up in front of the team, but everybody has so much respect for the kid.”
After the end of his sophomore year of cross country, Brooks finished the Woldumar Nature Center Run-a-Munk Half-Marathon that November in 1:39:10. Then he decided to run the Lansing Marathon earlier this year.
“He told me he wanted to break three hours,” Miller said. “I said ‘that’s awfully fast, Mitch. I think you’d be better off shooting for four and being OK with that’.”
Brooks completed the marathon on May 4 in 3:15:46.
“And that wasn’t a good day,” Miller said. “It was windy and cold. I was shocked.
“But he’s never tired. He’s not super fast. He basically hits the same speed, and keeps going forever.”
Maybe that shouldn’t have been a surprise since Brooks loves running in winter.
“I get a lot of weird looks when I run with no shirt on and short shorts,” said Brooks, who adds more layers when the temperature goes below freezing.
Brooks says he particularly likes to run a three-mile loop on roads around Mason.
“We live in the same neighborhood,” said Dave Hinkle, Tanner’s father. “I went up to town to watch a parade last summer, and he ran by me three times.
“He’s got to be lifting weights, too, because he can rattle off sit-ups and pushups like no other I understand. He’s a good kid.”
“He’s been a great kid,” he said. “I don’t know much about the autistic end of it, but I’m sure that’s part of why he does the mileage that he does. This is his thing that he’s found that he’s latched onto. But he loves it, and he keeps getting stronger each year.”