July 2021 ~
For Brandi Probasco-Canda (Benson, 2003), competing on the Benson High School girls track and field team beat anything else she ever did in athletics.
And, as were a lot of her races for Benson, it’s not even close.
Probasco-Canda was a 400-meter flash during a dominating era for the Benson girls. By the time she graduated in 2003, she had nine PIL event titles to her name, along with 11 state titles. And the Techsters swept four PIL and four state championships during her prep career.
Those victories alone were easily enough to put her in the PIL Hall of Fame in 2018.
Today, she is Brandi Walker, a licensed therapist in private practice in the Los Angeles area – and with extremely fond memories of her time at Benson.
Brandi earned the academic and athletic scholarship money the oldest of five children needed to go to college, and she chose Washington State over many other suitors and after taking additional recruiting visits to Washington, Arizona State, Arizona and Texas Christian. (She hoped to get an offer to Stanford, but that never came).
Washington State worked better academically than athletically for her.
“It was a college town, and that was fine with me, and I got a full ride,” she says, “but college track felt very different than high school track. More like a job. It wasn’t fun anymore.
“It felt like an obligation, but it paid for my school, so that was the trade-off.”
Running for Benson, and for head coach Leon McKenzie and assistant coach John Mays and others, was by contrast an extremely positive experience for her.
She’d run in summer track programs, starting at age 9, with tutelage from McKenzie and others.
The Benson girls broke through with their first state title in 1999, “and I felt like I wanted to be a part of that,” she says.
The girls team won again from 2000-04, and finished second in 2005, and Brandi says it wasn’t just talent that lifted Tech to the top.
“It was like a family,” she says of the team.
She focused on the 400, along with both relays.
When she began at Benson, she tried cross country, thinking it would help her lower her 400 time.
But “I never wanted to do that again,” she says with a laugh. “It was too much running.”
She also tried basketball, but “I wasn’t too good at shooting; it was too mechanical for me.”
She came to see that the 400 was the best fit for her long legs, and she loved being part of the team.
“I really liked the relays and the fact the (4×400) was the last race of a meet,” she says. “We’d do little chants or dances to pump each other up.”
PIL district meets were “intense, but it was like setting you up for state and to see where you were at.
“We were very serious about what we did and worked very hard; we didn’t play around,” she says. “Our workouts I’d compare with those you get in college. But we balanced that by having fun.”
Probasco-Canda ran the second-fastest girls 400 in state history (54.01 seconds), and she was on the two relay teams that set state records her senior year.
She made straight-As her last three years at Benson in a variety of subjects, from automotive to printing to computer graphics and design, and she took a liking to photography.
Her family had a strong Christian background (“my grandfather and his brother were pastors”) as well as experience in teaching (“My mom’s side of the family were teachers, and she was a mentor for at-risk girls”). Her father was entrepreneurial and worked with the Portland Police in issues involving youth gangs, and did outreach to the Black community.
Brandi, who turned 36 on June 30, majored in sociology at Washington State, with a minor in psychology.
“I was very much trying to understand people and wanting to help people out through social services work,” she says.
She earned a masters from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology (Los Angeles branch) and became a licensed marriage and family therapist.
During her freshman year at WSU, she met Brian Walker, a fellow student, and she has been with the native of Hayward, California ever seen. They married in August 2017.
Brandi says she stays fit by watching what she eats (no meat) and doing some cardio, but she no longer competes in sports.
“All that working out and running from age 9 to 21 was enough for me,” she says.