Athletes aren’t normal people. They don’t look like your convenient store cashier, and they don’t spend 12 hours a day sleeping like your lazy little brother. They don’t settle for mediocrity, either. Athletes push themselves, physically and mentally, further than most of us normal people could ever imagine.
And that’s why we idolize them. That’s why we spend hundreds of dollars to get courtside seats and why we have 15 sports channels airing on our cable package every second of the day. We love athletes because they do what we can’t; at least, that’s the way most people frame it.
The mystique of the athlete stems from the feeling that they’re doing the impossible, the superhuman. When Kenneth Faried soars through the air for a monster — excuse me, Manimal — dunk, we jump out of our seats and run around like a mad man because we believe he just defied gravity.
But in all of our awe, we rarely cheer for an athlete because of their work ethic; the barbershop isn’t full of conversation over how dedicated DeMarcus Ware is to being in the weight room at six o’clock each morning. For most fans, it’s all about the finished product.
For the athlete, though, the finished product is only a fraction of the story. And not many people understand that better than Brad Cooper.
Now, you may not know who Brad Cooper is — his achievements aren’t likely to make the Sports Center Top 10 — but he just might be one of the most impressive athletes in the United States.
Cooper, the CEO of US Corporate Wellness in Littleton, Colorado, is the first person in history to complete the “endurance trifecta” — qualifying for the Boston Marathon (by 25 minutes), the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon World Championship (also by 25 minutes) and winning the 3,000-mile Race Across America (RAAM) — in a five-month span. Oh, and he was just five months shy of his 50th birthday.
To say that Cooper has accomplished what few others could is a gross understatement; simply put, the human body was not built to adapt so quickly between such different pursuits.
“If you take any of the three events, they’re each obviously doable,” Cooper said. “The biggest challenge involves the combination of the three over a very limited timeline. Cyclists generally aren’t good runners, and runners generally aren’t very good cyclists, for a variety of reasons. A notable one is the way in which the muscles function so differently — concentric versus eccentric — in the two different activities.”
But it’s more than just the idea that cyclist don’t run and runners don’t bike; it’s that ultra-endurance athletes, whether they are runners or bicyclists, push their body to the absolute limit, to do one thing, and when they’re done, they recuperate; they rest until they’re ready to get back on the bike, or running path, where their months and years of training can kick back into gear.
When you attempt to qualify for two of the world’s most elite endurance competitions and complete (and win) a literal race across America in the span of five months, though, there’s not much room for recuperation and adaptation.
“When I got done with RAAM, I took a few days off and then went out for what I thought would be an easy little run,” Cooper said. “But just two minutes in, my quads cramped up so badly that I literally had to stop and sit on the side of the road before slowly walking home. It wasn’t a serious run — I was barely moving — but the change from concentric (cycling) to eccentric (running) activities caused the muscles to revolt. After a couple of weeks, things were back to normal, but it was definitely a learning experience!”
For a lot of us, that may have been reason enough to give up — to slow down, at least — but after what Cooper had been through, a cramping quad was child’s play. A few months earlier, six weeks prior to RAAM, a goose flew into the frame of Cooper’s bike during a training session, leaving his bike and his body in shambles. After emergency surgery to help repair a fractured clavicle, four broken ribs and three pelvic fractures (he also suffered a concussion and needed a patchwork of stitches), Cooper was left wondering whether his dreams of completing the “Endurance Trifecta” had been thwarted by … a goose.
But of course, Cooper was back on the bike three days later.
How? Simple. He’s of a different breed, just like so many of the athletes we admire.
Cooper is a man who, at the age of 40, started his own wellness company to promote a healthy lifestyle amongst employees of the corporate world. He is a man who still smiles about a childhood memory where a coworker at the grocery store (where Cooper was a bagger) asked to borrow his watch to go for a run. At age 16, Cooper had been encouraging coworkers to join him for a run, and the joy of seeing someone take that positive step created a pep in his step that has lasted for decades.
Cooper is also a man who believes succumbing to one rest day is about as close as he’ll come to admitting age has affected his body at all.
“There are physical changes you have to be realistic about,” Cooper said. “However, a lot of what you hear or read is self-fulling prophecy. We blame our lack of ability on the aging process when the reality is that it’s not age as much as it is effort. Yes, we have to be more tuned into adequate recovery, sleep and nutrition than when we’re younger — the body doesn’t respond quite the same at age 50 as it does at age 30 — but the fact is that most of our slowing down isn’t caused by the calendar; it’s caused by a change in our habits.”
And that’s why Cooper is different from so many of us: He understands that, “Time is only an excuse for things people don’t want to do.”
Brad Cooper is not superhuman. He didn’t do what no one else has because no one else can. Brad Cooper is who he is, as our most athletes, because he works harder than the normal person.
And so when we sit back and admire the exploits of some of our greatest athletes, we may gawk at the finished product — the dunk, the catch, the “Endurance Trifecta” — but what truly sets them apart is the work they’ve put in to get to that moment. Not everybody can touch the rim and not everybody can complete the Race Across America a full 24 hours before the second place team, but everybody can train as if they were going to.
That’s what Cooper believes in, and lives by, more than anything. That’s why he created US Corporate Wellness: To help push people to improve their quality of life, their health, one step at a time. Maybe that doesn’t mean putting in 20 hours a week of training like Cooper does, but it could mean going for a walk on your lunch break or taking a weekend hike with the family.
Who knows, maybe we’ll all start feeling a bit more like the athletes we admire so much.