Corben Brooks' future looks bright

Skye Kinkade
Mount Shasta's Corben Brooks has come a long way since a catastrophic football accident that left him a quadriplegic when he was a 17 year-old Mount Shasta High School senior. Next month, he's off to attend the University of Southern California to study Policy, Planning, and Development. He plays adaptive golf, drives a dune buggy, and rides a recumbent bike, shown above, which he pedals with his arms.

Nearly six years to the day after a freak football accident left Mount Shasta’s Corben Brooks a C5-C6 quadriplegic, he is scheduled to begin classes at University of Southern California.

“I’m excited to start this new chapter,” said Corben, now 23. “My life’s continuing on. This was just a speed bump.”

Before the accident, Corben had aspirations to join the US Coast Guard, fly helicopters and rescue people.

Though the course of his life was forever altered on Aug. 22, 2008, Corben still plans to rescue people, but in a different way.

He’s going to USC to major in Policy, Planning, and Development. He said he wants to attend law school after graduation “with the focus to help people in similar situations find the resources, legal means, and courage to take their lives back.”

Corben is set to move to Los Angeles Aug. 18 and begin classes Aug. 25.

He will be living in USC housing, across the street from the campus, in a wheelchair accessible apartment that is being renovated and upgraded.

Full ride scholarship

Corben was one of 16 students across the country to land a “Swim With Mike” athletic scholarship, which “paves the way for physically challenged athletes to overcome their disability and return to school,” according to a press release.

To qualify, applicants must have suffered an illness or injury that resulted in a physical disability that substantially limits major life activity, according to the release. They must also have participated in organized high school sports prior to their illness or injury.

Corben graduated from Mount Shasta High School in 2008 with the rest of his class. He graduated from College of the Siskiyous with an Associate of Arts in Social Science in May.

He began taking online classes at COS while he was in India receiving stem cell treatments not yet available in the United States.

Great strides in recovery

Corben went through three three-month stem cell treatment sessions in New Delhi, India, where he received injections of Human Embryonic Stem Cells directly into and around his spinal cord injury, He has worked diligently over the past six years to get to the place he is today.

He regularly attends Project Walk, a rehabilitation program in Carlsbad, which specializes in spinal cord injury recovery.

He works out and is now able to take steps with leg braces. He has good use of his arms, can wiggle his toes, use his hands, and feels the majority of his legs – all things he was once told would most likely be impossible, said his mother, Ronna.

“When Corben was first hurt, people suggested that we put him in an institution if we couldn’t deal with it all,” she said.

In an interview with the Mount Shasta Herald about a week after the accident, Ronna said Corben had no fine motor skills.

“He is able to move his biceps and triceps, but not his wrists,” Ronna said at the time. “Right now, Corben has no sensation from the chest down... There is hope. There is faith, there is prayer. So many people have been praying for Corben, and it’s this energy that is going to help Corben along his way.”

Through the months and years that followed, Ronna said the outpouring of support from the community allowed she and her husband, Kevin, to focus their attention on helping Corben recover.

Community support

“When I look back at this journey, the support the community gave us as a family gave us the confidence and ability to do all we could for Corben, and give him a life that’s as normal as possible,” Ronna said.

She said the community supported them financially – with many fundraisers and other events – as well as spiritually. People leant a hand with Corben’s younger brothers and sister, provided meals, and shared their knowledge of research studies and alternative treatments.

“I honestly can’t imagine how this would have been without the community’s support,” Ronna said.

“I don’t think it would have been like that if we had lived anywhere else,” said Corben. “I’ve talked to other people who have had accidents, and they got support, but nothing like this.”

No matter how many times he tries to articulate it, Corben said he’s unable to put into words how grateful he is to everyone who’s supported him.

A bright future

Many things have changed for Corben since his accident, but he says his life is good.

“I’m a happy guy,” he said. “Things are different now, but I don’t have much to complain about.”

Both Corben and Ronna say they’re ready for him to take this next step.

Ronna will go with him to USC and stay for the first semester to see what kind of help he’ll need. After that, they’ll find someone to provide whatever assistance Corben needs to be independent.

He is looking forward to meeting other Swim With Mike scholarship recipients. He knows two of them also suffered spinal cord injuries in football accidents.

When he’s not doing school work or completing college applications – he also applied to Stanford – Corben has been playing adaptive golf and enjoys recumbent bicycling, by pedaling with his arms.

He drives a dune buggy at the dunes and has enrolled in adaptive driving classes. He hopes to obtain his driver’s license next year.

He will be taking a full load of classes at USC. In between, he’ll try to fit in adaptive therapy. Corben said he is excited because he has season tickets to USC football games – a sport he loves despite what happened to him.

Though he doesn’t think he’d let his own children play, Corben said the main concern today about football is repeated concussions.

“You can’t live your life in fear,” Corben said about kids who dream of playing football. “Anything can happen at any time, and you can’t let fear stop you.”