The Heartwarming Story Behind Brooke’s Round Up

Who Was Brooke?

Brooklyn Nichole Cockerline, affectionately known as Brooke, was a beacon of joy in the lives of all who knew her.  To this day, if you would ask anyone who met Brooke, “What do you remember most about her?” chances are they would say her constant laughter and infectious smile.  Born October 25, 2008, she was the daughter of Jason and Alicia and best-friend and cuddle buddy to older brother Nathan.  Brooke faced a myriad of health challenges from birth including congenital CMV (cytomegalovirus), epilepsy, and cerebral palsy.  These conditions necessitated 24-hour care, a reality that profoundly shaped her daily life and life of her family.

Brooke’s daily routine was intricately tied to a range of medical apparatus, therapeutic interventions, doctors visits and sadly even long hospital stays.  As her diseases progressed, Brooke’s life was and mobility was increasingly restrained.  Brooke was outfitted with AFO braces on her legs and hand splints and eventually she received a tracheotomy and relied on a feeding tube for her nutritional needs.  Later in 2015, after a terrifying instance in which she went septic, she was set up with a portable ventilator to assist with her breathing.

Central to Brooke’s care was her family who made significant sacrifices to provide her with the support she needed. Brooke’s mother had to leave her job to become a full-time caregiver, a decision that presented challenges monetarily, emotionally, mentally and physically for the entire family.  Even with all of these challenges, on a daily basis Brooke was surrounded by love from her parents and brother who all did their best to ensure she could not only survive but thrive and enjoy the limited time she had with them.

Despite the increasing limitations her medical conditions imposed on every second of her life, Brooke continued to smile and to laugh.  Her cheerful demeanor was a source of inspiration to everyone who encountered her. Little did Brooke know the lasting and profound impact her joyful demeanor would have on others…

The Birth of Brooke’s Round Up

The origins of Brooke’s Round Up trace back to a fall festival in 2016, hosted by Blazin’ Trails Cowboy Church at The Ponderosa. It was a day filled with crisp fall air and bright blue Carolina skies.  Amidst the rustic charm of the festival, Brooke’s mother, Alicia, spotted the hayrides and she knew that was a safe activity that Brooke would enjoy. Pastor Harvey Gates was at the helm of the tractor ready for a quiet ride through the trails.  Pastor Harvey had known Brooke since she was born, as she was a member of his extended family.  Brooke, along with all of her medical equipment (ventilator, braces and tubes) was loaded into the wagon.  Initially things started out smoothly along the gravel road and many of the other passengers were overwhelmed with happiness seeing Brooke’s smile.  Suddenly however, concern came across some of the passengers’ faces as the trail got bumpy and Brooke’s ventilator alarm started beeping repeatedly.  Alicia (no stranger to how the device worked or to her daughter’s bubbly personality) had to reassure everyone that everything was OK; Brooke’s ventilator was just beeping because of all of the pressure from Brooke’s laughter!  The machine thought that something was blocking her airway, but in reality Brooke was overwhelmed with excitement and laughter causing her to “lose her breath” and the machine to alert.  As the ride progressed and the ventilator’s beeping and Brooke’s laughing continued, everyone was captivated by Brooke’s unrestrained joy and vibrant spirit.  Having done numerous visits to the Children’s Hospital where Brooke has spent so many days, Pastor Harvey understood what Brooke’s limitations were.  So when the first loop of the wagon ride was complete, he asked Alicia for permission to go another round.  Alicia said, “Of course, let’s keep going!”.  On the second pass Pastor Harvey made sure to hit every bump he usually avoided, just to get a bigger laugh from Brooke.  A farmer at heart, Pastor Harvey wasn’t concerned at all that round about the stress on his machine–that could be fixed, but Brooke’s laughs were priceless.

Pastor Harvey, observing this heartwarming scene, felt a stirring realization. Blazin’ Trails Cowboy Church was missing out on reaching an entire group of individuals and their families–the special needs community.   It was at this moment that the seed for a Special Needs Rodeo was planted in his mind. Pastor Harvey envisioned an event dedicated to bringing together children and adults with special needs, ensuring they experienced a day filled with happiness, love, and excitement just like Brooke did on that hayride. The following week he spoke with members of Blazin’ Trails Cowboy Church and pitched the idea.  The vote was an enthusiastic, “Yes!”.  Afterwards he approached Jason and Alicia and, with their support, the first Special Needs Rodeo was to be held in the fall of 2017.

Tragically on March 20, 2017, Brooke passed away before she could see the event come to life. Recognizing this profound loss, Blazin’ Trails Cowboy Church decided to honor her memory by naming the event “Brooke’s Round Up”. This decision was more than a tribute; it solidified the purpose of the event:  to bring together the special needs community and create an event where every participant can truly be themselves and feel seen, valued and loved.  Year after year,  this event reflects the enduring spirit of children like Brooke who even with their limitations have the ability to touch our lives in the most meaningful ways.

In closing, to put it in the simplest terms, Brooke’s Round Up was born from a simple yet profound moment of laughter on a hayride.  That’s it.  A young girl who could not walk and could not talk was able to inspire an entire community with just laughter and her smile. Even though she is no longer with us, we hope you attend a Brooke’s Round Up event because we know she will inspire you as well.

*** Beginning on June 10th, 2024, we are launching a 10 part series on our Blog with new posts released weekly.  Here you can read more about Brooke, stories highlighting the impact and struggle of raising a Special Needs child, perspectives on how Special Needs individuals enhance our lives and much much more.  Links to each part of the series will be posted below.  You can also access these articles by Clicking Blog and then “All our Latest News” from the homepage.

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