An Iron Man Stands Up for Women

by Carol Lee '96, Marketing

There are long days, and then there are long days. On Saturday, November 13, 2010, Dr. Jeff Cook’s day began at 7 a.m. with a 2.4-mile swim. Followed by a 112-mile bike ride. Followed by a 26.2-mile marathon. He crossed the finish line at 11:15 p.m., 140 miles later.

“Yes, I know there is a word for that,” he said. “It’s spelled c-r-a-z-y.”

Jeff has been an avid runner for years and has trained and competed in marathons before. But this grueling experience was more than a test of his endurance. It was an opportunity to raise visibility and actively support a ministry that brings hope to women in desperate circumstances.

“I have often told my students that rising above poverty is a lot like training for a marathon,” he said. “First, you have to believe it is possible for you to overcome the hurdles set before you, and, second, you need a coach.”

A triathlon is as much a test of mental endurance as it is a physical test. Most people never attempt to swim, bike, and run 140 miles in a day because they are convinced they could never finish. Many people are stuck in poverty or dysfunctional lifestyles for the same reason — they are paralyzed by fear and hopelessness.

“You need a coach who can show you exactly what you need to do to succeed, someone who will encourage you when you’re down; hold you accountable in your training; stick with you in your setbacks; and champion the value of your personal accomplishments,” he said.

Jeff’s colleague, Dr. Joy Fagan ’89, associate professor of Bible, is launching a ministry in Springfield, Ohio, to provide exactly this kind of coaching for women emerging from desperate circumstances. Safe Harbor House will be a residence where women can find hope, restoration, and a second chance at life. The home is in the final stages of city approval and renovations and will be ready to provide a safe and loving environment with on-site counselors to help local women get back on their feet.

Jeff chose to use the Ironman Triathlon as an opportunity to help raise the last $8,000 needed to complete the home renovations. For years, he has taught his students, “You can do more than you think you can.” So he asked friends, family members, and students to contribute minimum wage — $7.15 — for an hour, a day, or even a month to help a woman in need. They responded, and more than $3,400 has been raised, so far, to help bring this project across the finish line.

“If a woman were standing in front of you wanting help to get off of the street, you would help her,” he said. “You wouldn’t just do it if it were convenient; you would move heaven and earth to make it happen. The people at Safe Harbor House are looking desperate women like this in the eye every day. They need people to stand with them to make real, long-term hope and help possible.”

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