He’s Got Passion for the Brooksie Way

What a difference a year makes.

Actually, make that less than a year. In late 2008, Tom Szczepanski, CEO of Beach Communications in Pleasant Ridge, was 30 pounds overweight and taking medicine for high blood pressure.

He also was, and still is, chair of the board of directors for the metro Detroit chapter of March of Dimes, an organization County Executive L. Brooks Patterson had been active with for several years. When Szczepanski heard about the Brooksie Way Half-Marathon, created to honor Patterson’s late son, Brooks Stuart Patterson, he was inspired.

Moved by the young Patterson’s death and feeling a debt of gratitude to the elder Patterson’s volunteerism with the March of Dimes, Szczepanski knew he needed to do something.

“The pieces sort of converged,” he says.

He decided to start training for the next 13-mile Brooksie Way half marathon, and he rallied other March of Dimes board members to do the same.

“I didn’t start on this to lose weight,” says Szczepanski. “I felt so personally touched by the death of his son, I said, ‘For all that Brooks has done for the March of Dimes, let’s return the favor and get involved in the Brooksie Way.”

He began training in spring 2009 with what seems to be a deceptively basic training program: “It’s a pretty simple equation — left, right, repeat.”

Fast forward to October 2009, when Szczepanski is crossing the finish line of the second Brooksie Way Half-Marathon with a time of 2:13.11. Szczepanski was the winner of the event’s first CEO Challenge, in which the heads of local business compete against one another for bragging rights. Bruce Hill of HealthPlus was the winner of the 5K CEO Challenge.

“I was very surprised,” Szczepanski says of his victory. “For me, completion was victory.”

That was his first half-marathon ever and now he’s 30 pounds lighter and off the high blood pressure medicine.

The event has a way of bringing out the inspiring tales in people. Started in October 2008, the Brooksie Way Half Marathon commemorates the life of Brooks Stuart Patterson, the late son of County Executive L. Brooks Patterson. “Brooksie,” as he was known, was an avid sportsman and proponent o an active lifestyle.

This is the second year for the CEO Challenge, which Thompson is hoping will grow along with the Brooksie Way, which will be held this year on Oct. 3. Local CEOs pay $1,000 to enter and in return get registration discounts for their staffs, promotional advertisements in the estimated 5,000 runner gift bags, an advertisement in event sponsor The Oakland Press, and attendance at the Oct. 1 VIP Reception.

Nancy Thompson, a spokesperson for the annual Brooksie Way Half Marathon, says that although most of the Brooksie Way participants are non-CEO residents and families, creating a competition for local business leaders made sense.

“CEOs are leaders of our community,” she says, adding that encouraging the boss to get more active and healthier has benefits beyond the bosses themselves.

“That way you’re encouraging the health of their employees and those in their region,” says Thompson.

In its third year, the Brooksie Way Half Marathon is already in the top five racing events in the state in terms of participation — last year, there were 4,300 participants; this year the goal is 5,000 participants.

“The event from year to year is just getting better and better,” says Thompson.

For his part, Szczepanski plans to participate again and has begun rallying more potential runners for this year’s event. He sent an email to fellow CEOs in the area, challenging them to participate.

“If you start training now, you can do it,” he says. “Know if you dedicate yourself to it, it can be done.”

For more information on the Brooksie Way Half Marathon CEO Challenge, call 248-858-1848. For details on the event, visit www.thebrooksieway.com.