Lee Cooper, a Richmond resident and avid cyclist, returned home this month completing 1,932 miles through eight states and raising $1,000 to benefit the ALS Association.
Cooper, who has a handful of medical issues, said that he got involved in biking and fundraisers once he learned to walk again after an accident that left him paralyzed.
In 1993, at the age of 17, he and his wife were struck by a drunk driver who was never found, killing her and their unborn child.
Cooper suffered extreme nerve damage, and was in a coma for four and a half months, and paralyzed for months thereafter. Even today, he suffers extensive nerve damage, gait and is legally blind.
But that didn’t stop him from continuing his fundraising efforts. He began his trek in Salisbury, North Carolina — where he is from — to South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Missouri, Indiana and finally arriving home to Kentucky.
He experienced several exciting events on his trip including going to a Carrie Underwood concert, calling it a “dream come true.”
Later, while in Missouri, he took a tour of former President Ulysses S. Grant’s farm, seeing exotic animals. He also met a famous clydesdale horse named Abe, who starred in a Budweiser commercial.
“That was a big highlight, getting to meet him and hear the history of the farm,” Cooper smiled.
Another big highlight for Cooper was getting to meet Larry Falinena, who has ALS and is attempting to travel to each pro-baseball field in the nation. He also reconnected with an old friend and reunited with a cousin after over 30 years.
But the trip was not easy and fun the whole way. Cooper had several trials, having been inconvenienced with three blown tires, a cracked phone, sickness, extreme weather conditions, detours, depleting funds and even being run off the road.
His first bout with bad weather was early in Salisbury with bad storms at his campground. He said that biking through Georgia was the hardest part due to the extreme heat with an index reaching 115 degrees.
On the way to his campground, he cracked his phone screen, which Cooper said was another bad hindrance. But once he arrived at the campground, his luck began to turn around.
With an original fundraising goal of $500, Cooper had raised $240 when the campground’s owner came up to him donating another $500 to his cause. At which point, Cooper bumped his goal to $900.
Trekking on, and close to Alabama, he was riding through the night when his headlight on his bike went out, prompting him to use his broken phone to try and see when, yet again, he blew another tire, stopping his ride once more.
“That was a terrifying and scary night,” he recollected.
After tracking down a park ranger to get a lift to his designated campsite, Cooper was required to stay an extra night while he waited for his tire to be repaired.
Onward in Talladega, Alabama, he was run off the road, continuing his tumultuous and bumpy ride.
But down the road in Decatur, Georgia, Cooper caught another break when stopping at a Chick-Fil-A and received 30 free coupon cards for meals.
It was here that he got caught up in the worst round of continuous thunderstorms.
“It is scary when you have a new tent and new post and you are just out in this thunderstorm,” he said.
Luckily for him, he was able to get a ride from a local church into Savannah, Tennessee where the storm raged on forcing him to seek shelter in a hotel for over a week, which Cooper aimed to do very little on his trip to save money.
“Money just kept getting lower and lower,” he said.
Once he hit Paducah, Kentucky, he hit a massive detour at a bridge that he said almost ruined everything causing him to choose between going across on a ferry with a flooded Ohio River, or bike on a two-lane bridge, with a higher risk to his safety.
He chose to ride the ferry, which got him across the river safely.
Once he returned home safely, with $1,000 raised for the ALS Foundation, he said that his trip was overall worth it and said he got through it on prayer.
“There were a few scary moments, and there were a few great,” he said.
When asked if he was to plan another trip, Cooper said that he didn’t think so, but that if he did it would be from coast-to-coast.
Reach Taylor Six at 624-6623 or follow her on Twitter at @TaylorSixRR.