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By Bob Holmes
It was a typical South Carolina summer afternoon. Hot, humid and scattered late afternoon thunderstorms were developing over the Columbia area. Columbia International University cross country coach Jud Brooker was driving into his neighborhood in the northwest suburbs of Columbia when he saw smoke. As he drove further, he could see that the smoke was coming from his cul-de-sac. Because the fire department was already on the scene, he had to park a block away and walk toward his house. That’s when he met a neighbor who gave him the news – the fire was at Jud’s house – a lightning bolt struck a vent on the roof. The house was now engulfed in flames.
“I was stunned, and just sat there for awhile in unbelief,” Jud recalls.
He eventually had the presence of mind to text Nicole – his wife of three months, and an admissions counselor at CIU. The text read, “Come home now, house burnt down.”
“At first I thought it was a joke. Jud is a jokester,” Nicole said. So she called him and found out it was no joke. That’s when she started shaking, and says she “ran out of the office to come home.”
The thunderstorm that passed over the Brooker’s house was not the first storm in the life of these newlyweds. Jud was already limping around campus in an orthopedic boot because of a foot injury – a debilitating event for a cross country coach – and had recently had his appendix removed. But the through the storms, Jud says they have come to realize that they have “amazing” friends at CIU. After the fire, a unit was made available to them at CIU’s Pine View Apartments and the Admissions Department bought them houseshold and personal essentials and moved them in. But that was only the beginning of the love shown to them by the CIU family.
“Even the evening of the fire, the entire Athletic Department came to the house to support us and (CIU President) Dr. (Bill) Jones even came to pray with us and make sure we were OK,” Jud said. “Dr. Jones called every day for a little over a week just to check up on us which really showed the character and love he and other administrators have for CIU.
“We were showered with gifts and prayer that really helped us get back on our feet and know that God is good,” Jud continued. “Our marriage has really grown from this, and we have learned to lean on God and each other for our joy and not the ‘things’ we have.”
Nicole concurs that God has used the storms to bring her and Jud closer to each other.
“Walking with Jud through each trial after we got married has been challenging,” Nicole said. “These challenges have taught me more about being a loving and caring wife and about the importance of family. They have helped me to truly commit my family into the hands of God trusting that no matter what, He will take care of us, that I can’t do it all on my own.”
Jud says the experiences have given him an opportunity to “walk the walk, and not simply talk the talk” as he leads the men’s and women’s cross country teams, oversees intramural sports, and learns to be a godly husband.
“My job is dealing with college students and having students look to me for guidance.” Jud said. “This summer has really shown me the importance of being a strong Christian, not just for myself, but now for a wonderful wife who needs me to be the spiritual leader, (and for) students looking to me for growth on and off the cross country and intramural fields.”
Since the fire, Nicole has started a “Thankful” journal where she writes one thing each day about Jud for which she is grateful.
“It challenges me not to complain about the lack of time that we have together but to be thankful for a husband who loves me unconditionally and demonstrates Christ’s love for me,” Nicole said.
Another thing for which the Brookers can be thankful is that even though their house was a total loss and has since been demolished, plans for a new house on the site are underway. The house will also have the touch of CIU’s extended family. It’s being built by David Abbott, the husband of CIU Athletics Director Kim Abbott. Jud says he and Nicole could be in it in a matter of a few months – “if the weather is good.”