The Inspiring Story of 5-year-old Brooks Russell's Love of Baseball
Like most boys his age, 5-year-old Brooks Russell can’t sit still for very long.
On a Saturday morning in February, he was the guest of honor at Lipscomb University’s first baseball game of the season. But before his big moment, Russell managed to get grass stains on his baseball pants, bypassing the stairs to slide down a grass hill to the field.
And minutes after Brooks performed his duties of throwing out the first pitch, a one-hopper from midway between the mound and the plate, he had little time for Lipscomb’s game.
He grabbed his glove and picked out a small, grassy area outside of the stadium to play catch with his dad.
This is all just fine with his parents. About a year ago, Kari and Cody Russell of Hendersonville, Tenn., were re-teaching their son to walk.
“The moment we found out he was a boy we said, ‘I can’t wait until he plays baseball,’” says Kari Russell, Brooks’ mother. “Then you find out he has a brain tumor in his spinal cord, and all that is ripped away.”
The day after his fourth birthday, Brooks was diagnosed with a benign tumor in his spinal cord. Treatment during the past year included chemotherapy and a surgery that kept him paralyzed for six weeks.
That was only the medical component of his recovery from a tumor that is now dormant. The baseball component helped Brooks recover his confidence.
The baseball staff at Lipscomb, a private Church of Christ college in Nashville, Tenn., learned of Russell through the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation. Lipscomb’s Director of Operations Brian Ryman and head coach Jeff Forehand hatched plans to turn Russell into a member of the team.
“It just kind of took off,” Forehand says. “We were just trying to involve him in something. He’s a special kid, and he loves baseball.”
First came a National Signing Day ceremony for Brooks to sign — or rather, print his name in all caps — his letter of intent. Then came a locker with an official NCAA nameplate magnet and a bat boy jersey that eventually will fit. He later was honored at a basketball game and finally threw out the first pitch at the season opener.
“Brooks helps our guys realize that what they may be dealing with on or off the field is not as bad as it seems,” Ryman says. “Someone like Brooks, with love and passion for baseball, reiterates to our guys that what they get to do on a daily basis is a privilege.”
Brooks tells his younger sisters, Finnley and Riley, that he’s famous. “I signed some autographs,” Brooks says. “I never gave them out, but I kept them for myself.”
All of this has been a key part of a healing process that has lasted more than a year.
When Brooks was 3, his mother noticed that he didn’t move around quite like other children his age. He didn’t run as much as he speed walked. He had trouble reaching down to put on his shoes, but he never made a major issue of discomfort.
After meeting with pediatricians without a diagnosis, the Russells found an orthopedist who was willing to try an MRI. That’s when doctors found the tumor on his spine.
Doctors needed 10 hours to remove seven centimeters of the tumor from his back. When he awoke, the family wasn’t prepared to learn that he would be temporarily paralyzed. Brooks told his father, “Daddy, they took my legs off.”
“I think he was depressed,” Kari says. “He thought he’d never walk again.”
After chemotherapy and physical therapy, Brooks is nearly where he should be. He has braces on his ankles, he’s not as fast as other 5-year-olds, but he plays coach-pitch baseball, in addition to his duties with Lipscomb. Or as he puts it, “big boy baseball and little kids baseball.”
“His confidence level is through the roof,” Cody Russell says. “We have trouble getting him through regular door frames, his head is so big.”
From where Brooks was only a few months ago, that’s not so bad.
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Lipscomb University had Brooks, who battled a brain tumor, sign a National Letter of Intent
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