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Riding from Coast to Coast for MS
GW alumnus bikes across the U.S. to raise money for multiple sclerosis.
August 06, 2012
When Phil Cooper graduated from the George Washington University in 1984, he planned to ride across the United States on his bicycle. But when his mother protested, pointing out that he had no cycling experience, no gear and no plan, he abandoned the idea.
Twenty-eight years later, Mr. Cooper has not only realized his dream but raised money for a worthy cause in the process.
Over the past two months, Mr. Cooper, the chief executive officer of his family’s Lawrenceville, N.J., pest control business, rode 3,780 miles coast to coast to raise money for multiple sclerosis. He joined 17 other riders as part of “Bike the U.S. for MS,” a series of three cross-country rides that raise awareness for multiple sclerosis research.
“It’s a test of will and a test of what you can physically handle,” Mr. Cooper said.
But this is not the first time Mr. Cooper has cycled or raised money for MS.
In 1994, Mr. Cooper was looking for a bike ride and saw a flier advertising the “Bike MS: City to Shore Ride,” which runs 150 miles over two days through New Jersey. At the time, Mr. Cooper didn’t know much about MS. But as he rode with 7,000 other cyclists and saw the hundreds of MS patients sitting alongside the road cheering them on, he was deeply moved.
“You realize you’re really making an impact,” he said.
Since then, Mr. Cooper, who is also a spin instructor, has participated in the City to Shore Ride and raised about $20,000 every year. And he’s gotten his entire company, Cooper Pest Solutions, to get involved. The family-owned company with 84 employees was recently named one of the top 50 small businesses in the U.S. by Inc. magazine. Mr. Cooper, who received his bachelor’s degree in marketing from GW’s School of Business, credits a lot of what he knows today to what he learned at GWSB and specifically what he learned from marketing professor Lynda Maddox.
“She knew how to connect with the students, impart the knowledge and put it into real-world applications,” Mr. Cooper said.
Shortly after completing his first City to Shore Ride in New Jersey, he set a lofty goal: to ride across the country in honor of his 50th birthday. Through the years, he stuck to that goal, preparing his business for his two-month absence, putting in the long hours of training and setting up a blog, Phil Across America, for his friends and family to follow along.
He began the ride on June 1 in Yorktown, Va., and biked an average of 70 miles each day.
“I did things I never thought I would ever do,” said Mr. Cooper. “I had no aches and pains. I lost over 30 pounds. And I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in.”
As part of the ride, Mr. Cooper pledged to raise $50,000 for MS research. In addition to asking family, friends and co-workers to donate, he encouraged them to come ride with him for a day or two to help him celebrate his birthday. Mr. Cooper hired a driver to drive an RV and a trailer filled with 10 extra bikes so that his guests would have a place to sleep and bikes to ride. About 25 people joined him at different points during the two-month journey. On his 50th birthday on July 11, the team stopped in Telluride, Colo., where his wife, Laura, and their two kids, met him to ride along for a few days.
“It wasn’t a bad place to spend a 50th birthday,” Mr. Cooper said.
Whenever the team stopped for rest days, they participated in community service projects for individuals with MS. Bike the U.S. for MS, which has three separate rides across the country, has raised more than $238,000 this year, which will fund home modification projects for MS patients and support research and treatment efforts at three MS clinics across the country.
He finished the ride on Aug. 1 in San Francisco. While he hasn’t raised the full $50,000 yet, he said he’s committed to meeting that goal by the end of the year.
“I know how many people this affects. People I know have passed away from it, and I know we’re close to finding a cure,” Mr. Cooper said. “It’s something I’ve dedicated my life to and something I will continue to dedicate my life to.”