I have always identified myself as a swimmer. I started at the age of five and fell in love with the water. I began swimming competitively and it turned out I wasn’t too bad. I swam almost every day of the week and by age 14 I had AAAA times. Big dreams start to fill your head when you are improving with every meet. Then, slowly, everything started to change. I began to struggle to even match my previous times; I was getting slower. Practice became a nightmare. I was so exhausted after my dry-land workout; I began to dread the actual swimming portion of my training. I felt like a wilting flower. Despite my protest, my parents thought I had just lost interest as so many teenage swimmers do at my age. My coaches, they wrote me off as lazy.
It would take a full year to finally figure out what was happening to me. During that year, I spiraled down and down not knowing why I could not stay awake for longer than a few hours, why school became a struggle, why my friends called me bobble head, why my knees buckled uncontrollably without warning, and why everything had changed and I could no longer participate fully in the activities of my life.
My name is Danielle Brooks. I am a 17-year-old Junior in high school. I live in a small town, Dacula, just outside of Atlanta. As many of you know, narcoleptics are frequently misdiagnosed for years. I was lucky. About two and a half years ago, my mom noticed how much more I was sleeping. I could literally fall asleep any place and any time. As I mentioned my friends called me “bobble head” because they’d watched my head as I struggled to stay awake in class, at a movie, during homework, on the drive home from school, and even while eating dinner. My parents thought it was because I was going through puberty and the effects of swimming 7000 yards per day. They took me to the doctor several times for blood work and testing for mononucleosis, low iron, etc. But, nothing was ever found. I was “healthy.”
-The Nautical Narcoleptic-
Gainesville Times Swimmer of the Year 2013
Buford High School, Buford Georgia
Photo Tom Reed/The Times
Article By Zac Taylor
"Buford High sophomore Danielle Brooks is The Times Girls Swimmer of the Year....
She did so well this season that one of her biggest problems was how to choose the events she would swim at state, because she qualified for state in 10 of the 11 events she was able to swim in this season. According to the Georgia High School Association’s rules, a swimmer can only swim two individual and two teams events at state.
Brooks made the most of her second trip to state, finishing eighth in the 50-yard freestyle in a time of 24.25 seconds, 14th in the 100 freestyle (53.76) and helped lead the 200-yard freestyle relay team to an eighth-place finish (1:42.68).
She also set school records in the 200 Freestyle Medley Relay, 50 free, 100 free, 500 free, 200 free relay, 100 Butterfly and 100 breaststroke."
( Cool Photoshop Photo by Dad, Chris Brooks )
Inspired by Julie Flygar's Boston Marathon efforts I worked to regain what I felt I had lost in my swimming. Julie was/is known as the "REM Runner." So, my brother Austin coined me "The Nautical Narcoleptic" and it sort of stuck. We all need a little humor in our lives.
C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny...”
As time moved on, my sister, who can be quite the comedian, thought it was amazing that she could make me laugh so hard that I would literally collapse to the ground. It wasn’t until Gianna and I pointed this hilarious fact out to my parents that we finally had the missing piece of the puzzle. This “knee buckling when I laughed” piece led to my Mom’s Google search and the suspicion that I might have narcolepsy. A short time later, after a sleep study and a trip to a pediatric sleep specialist, I was officially diagnosed. Like many, I was just happy to finally have a diagnosis.
Also like many, that happiness didn’t last too long. If you have narcolepsy, you can probably identify with the feeling of dread that overwhelmed me as I read for the first time the challenges and complexities this disease brings to most people for the rest of their lives.
I really can’t remember if I ever cried or not. But, I do clearly remember the moment a few days later that I decided that this disease would not change who I am. That was the exact phrase I said to my parents and a sense of relief came over me. I basically decided to let God handle it all, because I knew He wouldn’t give me something I couldn’t handle.
It was then and there that I decided I would definitely NOT quit swimming and that I wanted to regain what I felt I had lost. I also knew, that if I could regain the success I once had or even get better than I was, I could hopefully inspire others to do the same.
Two years laters, while I am not an Olympian, yet :)... I am definitely back in the game. I joke that swimming is only half the battle and believe it or not, swimming is the easy part of my life.
So, how did I do it? As you probably have experienced, Narcolepsy makes you realize how precious and few the hours are that you are fully awake and functioning. I knew from the start that no matter what, I needed to exercise to stay healthy even though I really wanted to curl up and take a nap. So I decided to do both.
Gone was the Three hours swim practice every afternoon. In came a 45 minute nap immediately after school and then a 1.5 hour highly focused very intense practice. I gave up the long distance time consuming workout for a short fast sprinting workout. This change is probably similar to a mid distant runner trying to become a 50 yard dash champion.
But remember though, my original coaches didn’t really understand what had happened and had basically written me off. So, I decided to start training on my own at the nearby pool. I did this for four weeks and then found out that the pool was closing for renovations all winter.
Fortunately, I remembered a pair of brothers who I use to swim with. They were now swimming with a tiny team in a town just north of us. I texted them and they said I should come up and give it a try because the coach was great. Two years later, these boys, Paul and Ty Powers, are well on their way to being world class swimmers. (In fact, Paul recently won a Silver Metal at the 2013 World Junior Championships in Dubai and has signed with Michigan.)
What a blessing my new coach, Andy Deichert, turned out to be. He is an actual Sprint Coach. What are the chances of finding a new coach who wants to understand what is happening to me, understands my good days and bad and WANTS to help me reach my potential like any other swimmer? He changed almost everything about how I train and swim. He was so good and positive that even my close friend Madison joined his team after only one practice with me.
Surprisingly to everyone, I have rebounded this past year and done well. OK, This is my bragging part, sorry. But my Mom, Dad and I thought you would want to know given the point of this website. :) I broke every swimming record at my high school except two. I placed 8th and 14th in the State A-AAAAA high school swim meet and I was recently named as the 2013 Female Area Swimmer of the year by the Gainesville Times newspaper. I was also privileged to be featured in a two page spread in my high school’s yearbook. The pages told my Narcolepsy/Cataplexy story and how I intend to build awareness about N/C by achieving difficult things that even people without Narcolepsy find hard to do. I am now working hard to become a Scholastic All American Swimmer. I am about two tenths of a second away and hope to earn a swimming scholarship. My grades have been good and that is because I have benefited from attending a very, very supportive high school.
Just a brief mention of appreciation to my school, Buford High School in Buford Georgia. The Principal, all the counselors and my teachers have worked closely with my family and me since my diagnosis. We keep them very informed on my ups and downs and they have been very helpful with a good 504 but primarily through being flexible with my schedule. I cannot thank them enough.
So where did the “Nautical Narcoleptic” nickname come from? I give all the credit to my brother, Austin for coining me with this. I was telling him about Julie Flygar, The REM Runner, and her passion for running including her finishing the Boston Marathon. He looked up at me and said, “You could be The Nautical Narcoleptic”. I broke out laughing, and immediately had a catalepsy attack; so we new the nickname would stay. I do understand that being called a Narcoleptic can trouble some people, but for some reason it doesn’t bother me. I am still “Danielle” and Narcolepsy doesn’t define me; it is just a part of who I am. Perhaps, this silly nickname will bring humor, awareness or inspiration to other people with narcolepsy who share our situation and are looking for a ray of light.
I apologize for dragging on a bit, but I hope you can see a little clearer why my Dad and I started the “Succeeding with Narcolepsy” website. As people with Narcolepsy, we all share similar fears, troubles, and pain. I pray for a cure or relief from our symptoms everyday. But, more importantly, we also all have hopes, dreams and success stories. We need to share these with each other as well.
I want to read and then share your story of inspiration and success. Send it to me with a few pictures, make it positive if you can but I understand if you can’t.
I wish all of you who read this the best of luck in whatever you are striving to do in your life.
- The Nautical Narcoleptic