By Karen Lozano
Like mortar between the bricks, no matter how long or how well we think we know someone, when the gaps are filled in we have a new understanding and perhaps admiration for the finished product before us. And so it is with Susan Cooper, a tireless ShadowChase volunteer. Many may not know she serves on the club’s Board of Director as treasurer. Her face is probably better known at the Start/Finish line where she is a key member of the timing team, making sure races go off smoothly and each and every one of the hundreds of runners to toe the line on race day receives an accurate time so that he or she may collect their valued bling.
Talk about pressure!
“This job is brutally stressful. Knowing that you are the one that everyone counts on to get an accurate race time is so much pressure,” she says. “When I first found out I could be competitive in my running, I gave no thought to the people ‘behind the curtain,’ I just wanted to know if I placed! The timing of races is what actually pays the bills for our club and allows us to be generous with so many different organizations.”
But, for Coop, as she is affectionately known, the fun part is the “goofy” group of people she gets to work with.
“Why else would I join the group that shows up first to every race? Always in the dark and the cold!! But that’s when the magic happens.”
Coop joined ShadowChase in October 2010 after she had signed up for a 5K race. “I thought it would be helpful to meet people that knew what they were doing,” she says.
And like so many others, she has found so much more.
“I also needed a place to escape; somewhere I could leave my problems behind and meet new people. What I found was a family. (Director of Membership) Heidi (Ryan) found me hiding in the shadows at my first club meeting and hugged me right into the fold.
“After taking so much to heart from the club, I knew I needed to give back. The first time I volunteered was at the (now defunct) Super Sunday Relay. I was watching (SC Board Secretary) Danielle Myers in the timing tent and was curious to the mechanics. She invited me in and showed me what she was doing — basically put me to work.
“Volunteering is something that blesses my heart. It is a wonderful thing to be a part of a group of people that sacrifice time, energy, and even financially, to do something for others. We often don’t know the magnitude of the impact we have on someone’s life just by doing what we do without expecting anything in return.”
Coop also served as a Teens Run Modesto mentor this past year.
“Talk about watching lives change right in front of you!,” she says. “The enormity of this program is breathtaking. And what it gives to our teens is priceless. I am already signed up for next year!”
But unlike others, the ShadowChase family has perhaps meant much more to Coop, who has been challenged by a number of burdens to bear.
First, she had to deal with the loss of her mentor, coach, and dear friend Charlie Johnson, who served on the ShadowChase board as treasurer for many, many years, and was well-respected as the club’s voice of reason. It wasn’t unusual for other board members to defer to Johnson’s sense of wisdom on sticky issues at meetings.
But it was up to Coop, who works as a school district finance manager, to help modernize Johnson’s bookkeeping practices. She eventually helped replace the beat-up club checkbook Johnson carried to every meeting in a briefcase with a computer.
“I started working with Charlie Johnson back in 2011. He was my running buddy, my friend, my coach, and one of the most revered men I have ever met. Heidi Ryan had asked me to help him get the books computerized, as he was very resistant. Fortunately, he trusted me and let me help convert him to the modern age,” she laughs.
“For several years, I would make regular visits to his home to input the accounting and print reports for the board meetings. As time went by, he kept asking me if I was ready to take over. I always told him no, that was his job. He was too well respected and loved to try to follow in his shoes.”
But Johnson passed away unexpectedly in October 2014, and Cooper was asked to finish his term.
“In 2015, I ran to continue the position,” she says. “I have worked since then to update the systems and processes we now have in place. I have been blessed to work with dedicated and conscientious people. Our club is extremely successful financially because of the selfless efforts made by those who work very hard for no financial gain and very little recognition.”
And then life dealt Cooper an even crueler blow when her 15-year-old son Jac died unexpectedly last year.
“I am still trying to get my feet back under me and know this has changed me forever,” she says, but, “I have a teenage daughter, Mary, who gives me a reason to still get out of bed every day. I am thankful that (longtime club member and volunteer) Dave Busby has stayed by my side through the worst journey a person can travel. My mother lives with me and takes care of me now, as mothers do.”
For now, Cooper continues to fight for the life she has known and to give back to the community that has helped her through so much.
“The teasing, the banter, the love, and the abuse remind me constantly that I am part of a family. This club has given me more than I can ever repay in kind. To operate an organization of our size takes an army, so if you have gotten anything from this club, think about giving back so others can be blessed as well!”
One other gap filled in that others may not realize is the success that has Coop found in her running career. Though she says she is currently on a “hiatus,” she accomplished in a few short years what others strive a lifetime for – Boston!
“I started running in 2010 at 46 years old,” she says. “My first goal I didn’t even know I had. My friend Jenn Steger ran a 5k with me and paced me to a sub-30 (minute) finish. Whoa! Then I trained harder and found out I could win medals!”
She says she hauled in a lot of bling in 2011 and 2012. Then, on a 23-degree day in December, “everything clicked.” And in only her second marathon, she qualified to run the Boston Marathon.
Though the actual Boston Marathon experience was marred by injury and brutal weather, she completed it and says she can always try again.
“I have not given up. If I run a fourth marathon, I want to do something new and scenic,” she says. “I am tempted with Avenue of the Giants in the redwoods.”
And no doubt, her ShadowChase family will be there with her, casting shadows along her run as tall as the most majestic of redwoods.