Taliyah Brooks woke up that morning in June 2021 in second place of the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials. The day before, she had set three personal bests out of four events in the first round of the women's heptathlon competition.
"I was on track to do very good things, I mean three personal bests," Brooks told IndyStar this week. "I was performing at a very high level, even if ... "
Even if the day before Brooks and other athletes had been forced to compete amid an intense heatwave that was scorching Eugene, Oregon. That first day of trials, temperatures reached 108 degrees.
On that June morning, the second day of trials, temperatures were expected to soar to 111 degrees. Weather reporters on TV were warning people to stay inside, drink lots of water and abstain from anything physically exhausting outside.
But the heptathlon trials were set to start at 1:15 p.m.
Brooks didn't like that. She didn't like that her Olympic dreams hinged on competing on the hottest day ever recorded in Eugene. But she never gave a thought to skipping trials that day. Of course she wouldn't. Nobody would give up on an Olympic dream. Brooks would have to fight through the heat.
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As the sun pounded the pavement, the track at Hayward Field at the University of Oregon reached temperatures nearing 150 degrees. As Brooks warmed up for the long jump, her coach Chris Johnson told her she wasn't running as fast as she usually does.
"I'm trying," Brooks said she told him. But the results of her long jump that day "were not good," Brooks said, in an event she usually won.
Brooks drank some Pedialyte, hoping the electrolytes and sugar would energize her. She ate a snack, hoping to do better at her next event, the javelin.
But as she walked away from her warmup throws, Brooks fell to the ground. What was happening? She stood up and started walking toward Johnson. From the stands, Brooks' sister watched her. She later told Brooks she looked like she was walking drunk.
As Brooks approached Johnson, he asked if she was OK. She wasn't. Brooks collapsed and passed out.
Brooks said she doesn't remember being taken off the track in a wheelchair to a cold tub of ice water. But she does remember waking up on a table everything around her a blur — and devastated.
"It was a really sad moment," Brooks, 27, said. "I just remember I started screaming." Her parents were there and her mom asked if she could still run.
"I was like, 'No.' I knew I could not run," she said. "I just started screaming, really I was crying."
They were the sobs of an elite athlete headed for a likely spot on Team USA, headed to the Olympics, whose dreams had been shattered.
Shattered by the heat of a blistering day, a day Brooks and her attorney allege no one should have been competing on a track.
'These were the two hottest days in recorded history in Eugene'
Brooks filed a lawsuit Nov. 29 in Marion Superior Court against Indianapolis-based USA Track & Field (USATF) alleging the national governing body for the sport was not only negligent in having athletes compete in record heat, but that USATF did not provide adequate medical care at the field where the events in June 2021 took place.
IndyStar reached out to USA Track & Field but did not get a response.
Going into the June 2021 Olympic Trials, Brooks was the second-ranked U.S. competitor in the women's heptathlon, a seven-event, two-day competition. In college at the University of Arkansas, Brooks was a national champion in the indoor pentathlon, a 12-time All-American and 3-time Southeastern Conference Champion.
Brooks was "widely expected to be one of the top three finishers in the heptathlon at the U.S. Olympic Trials," the lawsuit claims, "which would have qualified her to compete on the U.S. team for the Olympic Games in Tokyo."
Instead, Brooks found herself in an ambulance headed to the hospital where she laid in a bed wondering how and why this had happened.
"These were the two hottest days in recorded history in Eugene, Oregon," said Bill Bock, an attorney and head of Indy-based Kroger, Gardis and Regas law firm's sports and entertainment team, who is representing Brooks. "And it was known well in advance."
Before the trials of the heptathlon competition, athletes on USATF Athletes’ Advisory Council petitioned USATF to move the time to morning or evening to protect the safety of the athletes, but USATF denied the request, the lawsuit alleges.
"They made absolutely no accommodations for these ladies in the heptathlon," Bock said.
Brooks says in the lawsuit that not only did USATF force athletes to compete in dangerous heat, but "USATF had inadequate equipment in place to protect the athletes and provide for their care, even failing to have an ambulance at the venue available to promptly transport her to the hospital."
"Brooks' collapse, heat injuries, and resulting hospitalization left her unable to complete the competition," the lawsuit alleges, "and deprived her of the opportunity to represent the United States in the Olympic Games in Japan."
'USA Track & Field dropped the ball'
As the weather forecasts made news before the heptathlon event, USATF rescheduled some events for the safety of the athletes, including the women’s 10,000 meters, the men’s 5,000 meters and the race walks.
Brooks said she has heard from the naysayers, people who claim that events in the heptathlon aren't long and grinding, that they are short events, that temperatures shouldn't matter.
"But we're out there all day, all day in the heat," Brooks said. "It does take a toll on the body."
As the days wore on after Brooks' collapse and as she tried to move forward, she didn't think about standing up to what she now says was negligence from USATF.
"I was too distraught for a very long time," she said. "But then it was some people around me that said, 'You need to see about this. It just doesn't seem right.'"
Her mom was one of those people, Brooks said, who is still angry about the lack of medical care. There was no ambulance on the field that day, the lawsuit says. It had to be called for Brooks.
"A lot of people think it's about me not making the team," said Brooks. And that is part of it. "But mostly it's about the lack of medical care. It's wild to me we have all these elite athletes and there is not an ambulance there."
The crux of the lawsuit, Bock said, is that "USA Track & Field has a responsibility to its athletes, to care for their safety, their well-being. There is only one national governing body for track and field in the United States and you get to be that national body if you care for the safety and well-being of the athletes.
"This is an instance where USA Track & Field dropped the ball."
Bock said an attempt to get records form USATF on Brooks' behalf have been denied. Beyond that, there are clauses that say she cannot sue USATF. The lawsuit seeks to allow Brooks to move forward with her legal claim.
Brooks said she has suffered physical effects in the form of severe headaches following the 2021 trials. But she is forging on and plans to compete again for the 2024 Olympics.
Still, she often thinks back on that scorching day and wonders what could have been.
"It's one of those things where you were performing at the best you ever have and you're healthy, you're at a good age," she said. "You don't know where you'll be in two or three years, if you'll be healthy and still running. Hopefully I will be. It just sucks how that Olympic trial happened."
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Taliyah Brooks forced to compete in 111 degrees, collapses, sues USATF