Pope eyes NYC Marathon in support of his son, epilepsy awareness
Cooper Pope looks like an average 8-year-old.
He’s got sandy brown hair, big brown eyes, and his smile is crooked with youth. But Cooper is epileptic, which means he is prone to seizures.
Epilepsy is a chronic and incurable disorder. No cause is known, but it can be managed with medication. For Cooper, that means taking daily doses of medicine and an annual trip to Emory University in Atlanta for full neurology exams to monitor his condition.
It’s been three years since his last seizure, so Cooper is thriving, but he’s still got years left to live with the disorder, which could manifest or stop responding to medication. Like a tattoo, Cooper’s epilepsy is with him for life — or at least until researchers find a cure.
Earl Pope, Cooper’s father, said it was tough learning of the diagnosis.
“When we (Pope and his wife) found out it was one of them things like, ‘What do we do?’ We’d never had to deal with it; we’ve never known anybody with epilepsy, or watched anybody have a seizure,” Earl Pope said. “When it’s your own kid, it’s like a feeling of helplessness, there’s nothing you can do when he has a seizure. We have some other stuff, learning disabilities, with him as well and we’re working through it.”
The Pope name is well known in Ridgeland. Earl Pope helped lead Thomas Heyward in football and basketball in SCISA. Now he’s a Lance Corporal for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.
He’s also known by his #teamcoop running jersey. Pope competes in triathlons, runs, and bike races in his #teamcoop shirt. And in November, he’ll be seen sporting #teamcoop in the New York City Marathon.
Pope didn’t start his elite athlete training with the idea of starting #teamcoop, but the two inevitably collided. Cooper, along with the rest of Pope’s family, is always waiting at the finish line for Pope. Cooper always asked to wear the medal and finishers’ T-shirt.
As Pope continued to race, he realized he could use the races to spark conversation about epilepsy.
“When I run it’s my stress relief. I listen to music, but I never really hear it — I think a lot and go through a lot of different things,” said Pope. “And that’s what kind of sparked the whole #teamcoop thing, to where I said I want to do something for epilepsy awareness, the Epilepsy Foundation. So I do it for him, I thought it’d be cool to do a #teamcoop every time I go run and try to inspire other people as well with my running. If I can do it anybody can do it.”
What does Cooper think? He loves it. He said he wants to run with his dad. And on Nov. 5, in New York, he will.
“I’m excited to run the 5K,” said Cooper.
Cooper sometimes accompanies his dad to the track and will do workouts with him, but this will be his first distance run.
“We’re going to do a 5K on Saturday — the day before the race,” said Pope. “We’re going to do it with him (Cooper), my wife, and middle son. We get to cross the same finish line that I’ll cross Sunday.”
Initially Pope wanted to run the marathon pushing Cooper in a running stroller, but that violates NYC marathon regulations.
Pope is close to 40, entering his sixth year of competing in races.
“About six years ago I decided I was getting really out of shape, started gaining some weight. And I said I want to start back running, and I couldn’t run a mile without having to stop — and I’ve always been in really good shape,” Pope said. “I made it a mission of mine to start running some 5Ks. Then I had the idea that I wanted to do a half marathon. We (Jamie Malphrus and Pope) ran the Savannah Rock & Roll half marathon, completed it, but it was a struggle. Then I got into triathlons.”
After growing comfortable with half marathons, Pope decided to push himself further and ran the Kiawah marathon in 2014. He trained by himself, but in his own words, he was not ready for that run and his body proved it to him. He fought off cramps, and spurts of delirium, walked some, but ultimately finished.
After that first marathon, Pope swore off marathons, but decided to step up his training regime. His subpar performance re-invigorated his competitive spirit. Since then he’s started to reach the podium for his age group regularly. He’s working his way up to compete in an Iron Man Race. But then, before he could register, the idea of redemption snuck into his brain.
He wanted to run a marathon, truly run one — not just finish one like his first attempt. So he hired a running coach and began looking into races.
He saw New York City’s race and realized his family has never been to the Big Apple.
To race in the NYC Marathon, a runner must qualify by time, or run for charity and raise a minimum of $3,250 for their cause. It was a no-brainer what Pope would do — run for the Epilepsy Foundation. His donations to the foundation would be in honor of his son, Cooper, who has come to be the theme of all his races.
To date, Pope has raised $3,411. Donations can made online through his donor page, or given to Pope. The goal is $5,000.
When the Pope family gets to NYC, they’ll tour the city. Each of Pope’s three kids get to choose one site or activity. For Cooper, that means seeing the Statue of Liberty, or as he likes to call it, “the liberty of statue.”
But before Nov. 5, Pope has other races to compete in, sporting #teamcoop gear of course. On Saturday, he’ll compete in the Skidaway Island Sprint Triatholon.
To help, visit Pope on his Facebook page.