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Santa Cruz’s Raymond Brookman running down a dream | Men’s cross country Santa Cruz’s Raymond Brookman running down a dream | Men’s cross country
Raymond Brookman, a burgeoning runner and recent Santa Cruz High graduate, had a goal in mind and never strayed from the path. That path... Santa Cruz’s Raymond Brookman running down a dream | Men’s cross country

Raymond Brookman, a burgeoning runner and recent Santa Cruz High graduate, had a goal in mind and never strayed from the path.

That path was first blazed by Brookman’s older brother, Demitri Nava. He was the first in the family to go to college. Not just any college, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, ranked No. 3 in’s list of 2020 Best National Universities. It has a 7% acceptance rate, 90% graduation rate, and an annual tuition of $76,150.

“It has been my dream school forever,” Brookman said. “It was the first college I ever heard of. I come from a lower income family and my brother got in. It was what we talked about at the dinner table.”

Academics was the path leading to a better life, he believed. His brother proved it.

“If you treat school like a job, it can pay off and it has,” Brookman said.

Nava, 26, graduated with a degree in computer science and works as a software engineer for Lyft.

Brookman, the Central Coast Section Division IV cross country champion despite having a little over a year of competitive running experience, is as advanced in the classroom as he is on his feet. The owner of a 4.44 GPA, Brookman was accepted to MIT in late March and received enough need-based financial aid that he won’t be paying a penny.

Santa Cruz High’s Raymond Brookman, the 2019 CCS Division IV champion, will run for MIT’s cross country and track and field teams. (Brandon Vallance – Special to the Sentinel)

“He got better than a full ride,” said Greg Brock, the Cardinals’ cross country head coach and distance coach on the track and field team.

When Nava was accepted into MIT, his mother, Dawn, admits that she never heard of it. After her oldest son graduated, she wrote a letter to MIT, thanking them for providing her son a life-changing experience.

When Raymond was accepted in March, Dawn broke down. “They care, they want the students to succeed,” she said.

To Dawn, Brookman’s acceptance was another victory for the have-nots.

Brookman never knew his father; he fled the country to Mexico when he was 2. That left Dawn, owner of Special Memories Childrens Entertainment, to raise three kids on her own. She also has a daughter, Adriana, 31.

Making ends meet wasn’t always easy. Brookman, 18, estimates that he has lived in eight to 10 residences in his life, some in the worst parts of Santa Cruz. He and his mother currently reside in a quaint, 8-by-30-foot trailer RV near Twin Lakes State Beach. It’s not big, but it’s enough. It’s home.

“I never received government assistance,” Dawn said, “I never received child support. And I was able to raise a family of four. It’s nothing short of miraculous. To me, God did it. Hopefully his (Raymond’s) story inspires other kids: It doesn’t matter where you come from.”

Brookman, a distance runner, plans to compete in both cross country and track and field in college. Much like the university’s academic standing, the Engineers are no slouch in athletics. The men’s cross country team won the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference title and placed ninth in the nation in D-III. And the track and field program, which had its season cut short by the coronavirus pandemic, was also ranked No. 9 in the NCAA.

The Engineers won’t compete in fall sports due to COVID-19 and plan to limit the number of student-athletes who return to campus for the fall academic semester. Brookman, who has already begun taking college classes online, believes MIT’s decision could be a blessing in disguise. It’ll allow him to get extra miles in as he attempts to get ready for track season in the spring.

It’ll also allows him to ease into college academics. Diagnosed with ADHD at a young age, Brookman was held back in kindergarten. But, seemingly, every year since, he has tested at a higher grade level in math. He last passed a Calculus 3 class at Cabrillo College while attending Santa Cruz.

“I was hoping to take a linear algebra class at UCSC, but that didn’t happen,” Brookman said.

Teased that he might be the only person to say he hoped to take a linear algebra class, he said, “That’s a typical MIT sentence.”

Junior Lifeguard volunteer Colton Jeffrey tells Raymond Brookman of Santa Cruz that Cowell surf break is closed in 2017 after a kayaker’s boat was bitten by a shark off Lighthouse Point at 11 a.m. (Dan Coyro — Santa Cruz Sentinel file)

With his shoulder length brown hair and laid-back attitude, Brookman is the embodiment of Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski. He said he never allows stress to consume him. When he feels it creeping in, he often heads to Its Beach to surf or goes on a quick run to decompress.

“I easily get a runner’s high right off the bat,” he said. “It’s really relaxing.”

At MIT, a path along the scenic Charles River or in the Engineers’ indoor track facility await him.

Brookman proved to be a quick study in distance running. He joined the cross country team late as a junior and showed promise despite running in shoes he purchased from Goodwill, which hurt his feet.

In the spring, former teammate Lila Roake’s parents gifted Brookman some Nike shoes and he noticed a difference over his old Asics immediately. His first race in his new shoes, he knocked 15 seconds off his time in the 1,600-meter race for a personal-record 4:43 finish. A week later, at the Soquel Invitational, he bettered his PR to 4:36. He posted a 4:39 finish at the SCCAL championships for fourth place.

He didn’t get a track season this spring due to COVID-19, but is confident he would break 4:20.

“I didn’t get the last piece of the high school puzzle of what his true speed is,” Brock said.

Regardless, Brock believes Brookman has a bright future.

“He’s going to be an outstanding middle distance runner,” the Cardinals coach said. “His talent is enough to where it’s absolutely up to him. I’m excited for him. MIT is a great school, academically. It’s the D-III version of Stanford, athletically. They really value sports. They put effort into it without going overboard. It’s a good opportunity for him.”

Brookman is pretty excited. But he knows the race he’s currently running is a marathon, not a sprint. He just has to stay on the path and keep pushing.

“My excitement level is pretty high,” he said. “It’s not peaking because I don’t get to go in the fall. But I think about it every day that I got into my dream school.”