By Martin Cleary
Realtor-golf addict Steve Cooper has given a new and thoughtful meaning to the word ‘triathlon.’
Traditionally, the challenging, one-person task revolves around an open-water swim transitioning to a cycling road race and finishing with a running race.
When the Cumberland resident unveiled his approach to triathlon on Saturday, it looked like this – survive a marathon walk while pushing and/or pulling a golf cart with bag and clubs to be able to play 18 holes of golf to have unlimited and meaningful conversation.
The walk and golf portions of his courageous exercise are self-explanatory. It’s the ‘meaningful conversation’ element that is the most intriguing and most relevant these days.
Cooper, 49, wants men to open up and talk about their mental health issues. It’s time “to raise awareness and spark vital conversations” about this critical matter in our society, says his website.
The topic of mental health is important to Cooper as he has experienced some issues since last November and explored different avenues to deal with his concerns. As he weaved his way around and through his anxiety, depression and stress and took time off work, he thought he could do more and help others.
He figured he could walk a few kilometres and raise a few dollars. But that wasn’t enough. As he kept thinking, “it kept morphing, what if I walked the distance of a marathon, imagine walking 42.2 kilometres and would it get me to a golf course?”
As his way of putting the spotlight on the topic of mental health for men and raising funds for the Canadian Mental Health Association, he created a one-man OK Walk for Men’s Mental Health.
The ‘OK’ stands for Orleans Kanata and those two large Ottawa communities served as the respective start and finish lines for his 42.195-kilometre marathon walk. And to make it even more interesting and eye-catching, he pulled and/or pushed his golf cart containing his bag and clubs plus a backpack with his walking supplies, which weighed about 35 pounds, the entire distance.
In the total darkness of Saturday morning, Cooper left the Orleans Compounding Community Pharmacy at 2746 St. Joseph Blvd at 4:55 a.m. His destination was The Marshes Golf Club at 320 Terry Fox Drive in Kanata. He had an ETA of 1 p.m.
During his cross-town walk, he spoke to several people and passed along cards to explain his mission.
As Cooper and his golf cart/bag – which he named Gary after former Montreal Expos great Gary Carter – were moving through Westboro, one man commented: “Well, you don’t see that every day.” That sparked a short conversation and Cooper handed him a card.
As a rookie in his version of the triathlon, he performed exceptionally well and arrived only four minutes off schedule at 1:04 p.m. His total walking time was six hours, 56 minutes, and his overall time, which included four breaks and speaking to Ottawa residents, was 8:09.
But that was only the first leg of his triathlon. A few minutes after he arrived at The Marshes, he started his scheduled round of golf with three long-time friends as well as two other groups of supporters behind him.
Cooper treated himself to a power cart to get from hole to hole instead of walking the course.
“The first three-quarters of the walk went by at a good pace (six kilometres an hour),” explained Cooper, who’s familiar with organizing and participating in charity and community events. “But the last quarter was a grind. But when I got to The Marshes, I got a boost.”
For part of that final stretch, Cooper was joined by offspring Max Cooper for an hour’s worth of walking.
Steve Cooper usually shoots in the neighbourhood of 93 for a round of golf and that was his final score on the challenging Marshes course. He was extremely happy with his golf, especially after his marathon walk, and took great delight in boasting he had a better score than his friends.
As for confronting the third leg of his triathlon, he was open to talking about mental health issues and answering all sorts of questions about the walk, including why he did it, will there be one next year and will he open it up for participation by other men.
Can you imagine the possibility in a few years of a group of men on a marathon walk pulling their golf carts and bags through Ottawa streets and heading to a golf club, while talking about and tackling the issues of mental health?
It could happen, but Cooper, who works for MetroCity Property Group, wanted to make the inaugural journey a solo effort.
“I wanted to make sure I could do it,” said Cooper, who prepared for his OK Walk with five training treks, including walks of 25, 33, 43 and 50 kilometres. “It was the first year and I wanted to do my own thing and get it down.”
After departing the pharmacy in Orleans, Cooper made his way West to the Beacon Hill neighbourhood. Blair Road took him to Sir George-Etienne-Cartier Parkway, which led him into downtown Ottawa and Parliament Hill.
“There was one crazy thing. I’m a believer in coincidences. When I reached the Centennial Flame, and there was no one around, I looked at my watch and I had walked 19.67 kilometres. That was a crazy co-incidence,” said Cooper, referring to the Parliament Hill tourist attraction which was built for Canada’s 100th anniversary of Confederation in 1967.
Cooper continued his journey on the Kichi Zibi Mikan, the former Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway, and that led to Andrew Haydon Park. Herzberg Road was the last big checkpoint, which turned into Terry Fox Drive and brought him to The Marshes.
“My main reason for this OK Walk was to start conversations and get people talking,” said Cooper, who added it could be as simple as someone seeing one of his posts on Facebook and having that trigger a conversation about a mental health matter.
“A lot of it for me was on a personal level. I’ve had to deal with my (mental health) issues. I’m not an expert. What I experienced and what I think isn’t a blueprint for everyone else.”
Cooper occasionally visited his family doctor in the past 10 months and other professionals for guidance. A friend told him to walk into a gym and look around. Don’t buy a membership immediately, but see if it would have the potential to calm the mental health issues. He tried one of the exercise machines and felt comfortable.
“A conversation with a colleague got me focused on different things,” Cooper said. “I saw big changes with physical activity. It wasn’t rocket science. Going to the gym was good for my mental health.
“I shed a lot of weight (100 pounds) in a few months. When I was golfing, I’d walk the course instead of using a power cart. A lot of males in the 45 to 55 age group … don’t talk about it.”
Cooper is uncertain how much money his OK Walk has raised, but he could hear from the Canadian Mental Health Association this week.
“It could be $100 or $5,000. I had no pre-conceived idea money-wise,” Cooper said. “My whole goal was to hope someone saw me and will have a conversation with someone.
“It’s amazing. It all goes back to when I started down this path last November. It was sparked by a conversation with someone that wasn’t expected about something I didn’t expect.
“Compared to where I was last November, when I had just turned 49, not living a healthy lifestyle and wondering ‘will I make it to 50?’, I needed to change. Physically, I am now as healthy as when I was a teenager. I’ve dropped 100 pounds through diet, physical fitness and a lot of other pieces to the puzzle.
“I feel better, but everything is still a work in progress.”
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
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