Birds of a feather

Mike Brook, 58 an undecided major (left) and Jeff Anderson, 59 an undeclared major, relax in their wheelchairs as part of Orange Coast College’s Adaptive Kinesiology Program.

Jeff Anderson and Mike Brook have been best friends for 51 years.

The two met in elementary school, perhaps drawn together by their mutual battles with cerebral palsy, or perhaps just because they shared so many things.

In addition to Anderson and Brook’s lives with cerebral palsy, a neurological movement disorder, they are both Costa Mesa natives, proud Orange Coast College Pirates and diehard Angels fans.

They can most likely be found wearing their OCC Spirit of Ability shirts and Angels hats with Pete the Pirate emblazoned on the underside of the brim.

Anderson, 59, an undecided major, first attended OCC in 1980 when his girlfriend at the time asked him to join her adaptive bowling class. He’s been part of the AKIN, the college’s Adaptive Kinesiology Program, on and off, ever since.

AKIN seeks to help students with disabilities or chronic illness maximize their mobility through individualized exercise programs. AKIN is also an opportunity for students interested in the fitness or healthcare industries to gain experience and service hours.

Brook, 58, also with an undecided major, joined AKIN after Anderson also persuaded him into taking a bowling class. Despite some initial hesitancy, Brook said he has grown to love OCC.

“He’s like me. He just loves it here,” Anderson said of Brook.

Brook, for his part, teased Anderson on his devotion to OCC.

“Well, he’s going to be buried here,” Brook said of Anderson.

But that is where the similarities end.

Brook is the pragmatic, measured straight man to Anderson’s vivacious, comedic personality. He speaks with a curmudgeonly directness, especially when describing his best friend.

“He can monopolize a conversation without actually saying anything,” Brook said of Anderson.

In addition to their enrollment in the college’s AKIN program, Anderson and Brook are also deeply involved in the Spirit of Ability club, which raises funds for special needs events on campus, offers scholarships and promotes leadership conferences.

 Brook, in his wheelchair named Buzz, serves as president of the club and Anderson as vice president, although he has served as president in the past. With his work with Spirit of Ability, Anderson seeks to normalize disabilities and hopes that people “don’t look at the chair first. Look at the person in the chair.”

Others admire Anderson and Brook for their work with the club and for their help with everyday life.

“Mike is very wise for his years so he’s always good to talk to,” Keith Watton, a 42-year-old psychology major who is also in AKIN, said. “Since he’s been handicapped a lot longer than I have been, he always knows the best places to go for accessibility. Like the best things to do considering being in a wheelchair.”

Kevin Brown, a 54-year-old social services major, said Anderson and Brook’s enthusiasm for AKIN is contagious, adding that he persuaded him to try activities that push him out of his comfort zone like surfing and trips to Catalina.

“I don’t go places. I think it’s a wheelchair thing with going out. But they go out and just showed me places and things that I wouldn’t normally do,” Brown said.

Brook attributes his can-do spirit to his parents, who he said taught him that “it’s not what you don’t have.  It’s what you choose to do with what you have left.”

Since joining AKIN, Brook has become an avid bowler and got Brown to try playing again.

“I played my first game of bowling ever in a wheelchair. Twenty-five years I haven’t bowled and I didn’t think I could. The same thing with surfing. I wouldn’t think I could but hey, we did it. We all went out there and we did it,” Brown said.

AKIN instructor Heather Pecora sees Brook and Anderson as integral members of the program.

“They know everybody and everybody knows them. I feel like this whole group of Adaptive PE students is definitely like a family. They play a really important role in their community,” Pecora said.

 Both are active around campus with events and fundraising for the Spirit of Ability Club.

For his part, Brook is giving back to OCC is an unusual way.

He said he had voiceover career in the early 1980s.  He keeps his hand in it by doing voiceover work for the school. As for Anderson, the college offers him calm.

“I feel like, you know, I can come here and if I have any stress at all, it’s gone as soon as I come here,” Anderson said.

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