Man biking to Wilmington to raise awareness about drinking and driving
Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 1, 2012
By Sarah Campbell
SALISBURY — Lee Cooper will pull out of the Kmart parking lot at 6:50 a.m. sharp Wednesday to set out on his bicycle trek to Wilmington.
The 35-year-old Salisbury man is planning to pedal the more than 200 miles for a purpose — to raise awareness about drinking and driving.
Cooper knows firsthand what can happen when someone decides to get behind the wheel after drinking too much.
He lost his wife, Lisa Marie Cooper, and unborn child in a drunk driving accident in 1993.
And although he survived, Cooper sustained a traumatic brain injury that impairs his speech and memory. He also has physical limitations including nerve damage in his legs and hands.
“I want people to realize what I go through on a daily basis after being hit by a drunk driver,” he said. “I want them to see the impact, my struggles and understand the pain I go through.”
Cooper said he has issues with the grip in this left hand and being able to balance without the his specialty shoes.
“When I take off my shoes it is hard to walk in my own home without falling and hurting myself,” he said. “I wake up in the morning not feeling my legs at first.”
Although it’s been nearly two decades since Cooper’s accident, he’s making the trip now in hopes that lawmakers will take notice and work to create stricter penalties for drunk drivers.
He’s also using the ride as a way to start fresh.
“It’s time to stop living in the past and hating myself for being a survivor,” he said. “I think this is a chance to finally move on and heal.”
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A sign bearing the message “Stop, Think, & Give up your keys before you take a life” is attached to the back of Cooper’s bike.
“He’ll be kind of like a rolling billboard,” said Cress Goodnight, a speech language pathologist who used to work with Cooper at Novant Health’s Diagnostic Imaging and Rehabilitation Center. “The big thing is that he wants to raise awareness, he wants everyone who’s driving on the road to see him and see his sign.”
Cooper contacted Lori Brown, the state development officer for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, about doing the ride several months ago.
Although the trip isn’t a MADD-sponsored event, Brown said she’s thrown her support behind Cooper’s efforts.
“He really wants to spread the MADD mission and just educate the public on the dangers of drinking and driving,” she said. “He’s a great messenger because he has been there, he has lived it.”
Brown will travel about two hours Wednesday morning from her Raleigh office to see Cooper off.
“He’s a trooper,” she said. “We support him 100 percent and wish him the best.”
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Cooper has been riding a stationary exercise bike at least two hours a day and doing leg lifts in preparation for his the ride.
He also frequently travels throughout Salisbury and surrounding towns on bicycle.
And he’s dropped about 30 pounds.
Cooper enlisted the help of Kim Forbes, the speech language pathologist he works with at Diagnostic Imaging and Rehabilitation Center, to plan his route.
Cooper plans to bike nearly 90 miles the first day, traveling along U.S. 52, N.C. 24 and N.C. 211. The second and third days will consist of nearly 70 miles of pedaling.
“We’ve been working through different scenarios that could come up, like a storm or flat tires,” Forbes said. “Lee has done a great job problem solving.”
Throughout the journey, Cooper plans to stay in hotels like the Econo Lodge and Holiday Inn. He’ll also be resting his head at several campgrounds.
“We talked a lot about the map and where he can stop along the way safely.”
Cooper hopes to speak at some churches and local gathering spots during the ride.
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Cooper plans to participate in the annual Walk Like MADD event in Charlotte in October. He has already raised more than $800 toward his $1,000 goal for the event.
“Lee has been very proactive about going to different places and trying to raise money,” Forbes said.
The bike Cooper will use for the trip has been loaned to him by a fellow rehab patient.
The helmet he’ll wear was given to him by Goodnight, Forbes and the rest of the employees at the rehab center.
“It’s been exciting for all of us here to be a part of this experience with Lee,” Forbes said “We are so proud of him and we’ve been working really hard to make sure that he is prepared.
“I think Lee has a lot of courage to do what he’s doing.”
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.
How to donate
You can donate to Lee Cooper’s Walk Like MADD?campaign by visiting walklikemadd.org, selecting Charlotte and then finding his name. He’s raised more than $800 of his $1,000 goal.