Incoming Student to Gardner-Webb Overcomes Major Obstacles

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Lee Cooper Proves Circumstances Can Change with Determination

BOILING SPRINGS, N.C. – The start of another fall semester at Gardner-Webb means a new beginning for incoming freshmen.  This could not be exhibited more than in Lee Cooper, who is a survivor in every sense of the word.  From cancer as a child to the sudden death of his wife and unborn baby at the hands of a drunk driver, Cooper repeatedly demonstrates resilience against all odds.

“I don’t know what quit is,” said Cooper.  “When people tell me I can’t do something, I think if they knew what I had been through and what I’ve already achieved, they might think differently.”

Cooper’s toughest struggle is one that keeps him fighting to make a difference today.  On Nov. 1, 1993, Cooper lost his wife, Lisa Marie Cooper, who was six months pregnant with their first child, when a drunk driver crashed into their vehicle. Lisa and the unborn baby were pronounced dead at the scene, while Cooper was rushed to the hospital, where he stayed in a coma for the next four and a half months due to brain damage.  The drunk driver survived the crash, but later died in prison.

“That’s why I’m passionate about helping bring awareness to MADD (Mothers Against Drug Drivers),” Cooper explained.  “I had to completely start over.  That meant everything from walking to talking, reading and writing, to bathing.”

While the accident would have been almost more than one person could bear, Cooper had been through other struggles prior to 1993.  The only blood relative who provided guidance and constant care for him as a child was his grandmother, who died in his arms at a young age.  His biological mother was deaf and had additional health problems, which left her unable to care for him.  After being abandoned by his stepfather, stability eluded Cooper as he went from one foster home to another. He was finally fortunate enough to be adopted by a childless woman he called Mrs. Claudia, who saw his pain and wanted to make a difference in his life. During his childhood Cooper also overcame brain cancer, but today celebrates 32 years of being cancer-free.

As a result of the accident, Cooper still deals with numerous health problems, such as borderline day blindness, short-term memory loss, and weaknesses in his legs. But through determination and purpose, Cooper found a way to put his legs to work (despite the pain and challenges). Following the accident at the age of 20 when Cooper regained the ability to use his legs, he started cycling. With that newfound joy, came cycling for a cause. He eventually became an advocate for MADD, participating in numerous events throughout the Carolinas.

“I can ride a bike better than I can walk,” Cooper shared.  “I go everywhere on my bike.”

Getting into a college had been difficult for Cooper, who had submitted numerous applications.  Yet, it was ultimately in God’s plan for that door to open at Gardner-Webb.  Cooper says he was overjoyed when he received the word that he had been accepted.  Cooper recently moved from Salisbury (N.C.) to Boiling Springs.

“I’m still trying to find out who I am.  One thing I do know is that I’m going to continue to raise awareness to drunk driving and share my story,” he reflected.  “I hope I can start a MADD chapter here one day.”

Overcoming enormous circumstances, riding hundreds of miles for MADD, and now with an opportunity to receive a college education at the age of 37, brings a smile to Cooper’s face.  He knows it won’t be easy, but looks forward to starting American Sign Language (ASL) and Religious Studies courses at Gardner-Webb in the hope of getting into sign language ministry one day.

The next event Cooper plans to participate in is the Walk Like MADD Fundraiser for Charlotte, N.C. on Oct. 26.  He is currently raising funds for the event and has a webpage set up with details.  Those interested can contact him by email at coup711@yahoo.com.

MADD works in more than 600 communities across the country, and has more than 1,400 trained victim advocates on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week to support victims with comfort or legal assistance.  There website is www.madd.org.

Located in Boiling Springs, N.C., Gardner-Webb University offers a comprehensive academic experience that introduces students to the diverse world of ideas and to the people who think them, preparing them for career success and for engaged, responsible citizenship in their professional, civic, and spiritual communities.