Jodi Cook’s oldest son could not run, so she decided to run for him. After many nights running on the treadmill in her home, she logged a total of 39.3 miles as she ran both a 13.1-mile half marathon and a 26.2-mile marathon last month.
The 34-year-old elementary school teacher and single mother of four originally from Old Fort said she set out to teach her children and students that it is possible for them to reach the goals they set for themselves as she laced up her running shoes to tackle her own.
Her son, Luke, had some complications as a baby that would later change the course of his life. Shortly after he was born, he had a seizure, and doctors found out he had blood on his brain. They did surgery to implant a device called a shunt to help the blood drain, but he had another seizure a couple weeks later. After that, Luke went about three years without having any major problems, growing just as a normal child would.
After he had just turned 4, he had a seizure in the middle of the night. Complications from that caused him severe brain damage — to the point that his doctors did not know whether or not he would live. The shunt was blocked, and the pressure fluid had put on his brain had increased so much that his life was hanging in the balance.
“He had a 1 percent chance of survival,” Cook said, recalling one night in the hospital when she and her then-husband prayed and read Bible verses over their unresponsive son. “We just left it up to God.”
He ultimately survived the ordeal but was left having to relearn things like how to move around and talk. Cook said Luke, who is now 7 years old, uses a wheelchair and is “like an 18-month-old cognitively.”
But she likes to stress that he is continually learning new things, which she said has served as an inspiration to her. Cook said Luke, who at one time needed a feeding tube, can now chew and swallow food normally. The boy who could previously only get around using a wheelchair is now able to walk around his home as long as he is careful not to lose his balance.
“Doctors did not give Luke much hope even after he came out of rehab,” Cook said. “But he has proven all of them wrong with what he is doing today.”
Luke is also well enough to attend Waterville Community Elementary School, and Cook believes that, at the rate he’s going, he may learn to talk again.
Cook has three sons and one daughter, 7-year-old Luke, 6-year-old Rafe, 5-year-old Grant and 2-year-old Isabella, who she is raising with help from family members. She and the children’s father are divorced.
She said caring for her four children is like “a 24/7 job,” and she also stays busy with her job as an elementary school teacher. Despite her busy life, she said she recognizes that Luke has a harder life than she does because of his disability.
That is what inspired her to run a marathon in his honor. Cook said she was at home with her children one evening when she began to think about what her son had begun to overcome. She said she thought she could learn to run long distances if he was able learn how to walk again.
“Every day, he has to persevere to do thing the things I take for granted,” Cook said. “It just hit me; I needed to do something.”
Early last year, she trained and set out to run her first half marathon with hopes of eventually working her way up to a full one. However, she injured her foot the day of the race and was not able to run. The thought of running such a race never left her mind though, she said. She was discussing it with her brother one day when he suggested she check out the marathon races held at the Walt Disney World theme park in Florida.
She ran in “Goofy's Race and a Half Challenge” that required runners to participate in a half marathon on Jan. 12 of this year and a full marathon the very next day. She accomplished both goals with her family there to cheer for her along the way.
“I ran the half marathon and the full marathon in two days because I wanted to honor Luke and my other three children,” Cook said. “I know Luke will never be able to accomplish that goal, but I became his legs that day and did it for him.”
Cook graduated from Bradley Central High School, Cleveland State Community College and Lee University and earned a master’s degree from Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate. For the past 11 years, she has taught fifth-grade writing, language arts, social studies and science at Oak Grove Elementary School.
After busy days teaching children at school, Cook returned home and would train to run a marathon in her den. She would log several miles on a treadmill while keeping an eye on her children as they played nearby. On weekends, she would sometimes get the chance to run by herself outdoors when relatives would babysit for the children.
While Luke may not have had much of a grasp on the amount of time she spent running, she said the other three would sometimes ask her why she spent so much time running. She said she explained her goal to them, and they later got to see their mother go on her “Goofy” run and get medals for making it to the finish line while keeping up a good running pace. Cook said she hopes they were able to see that they could also do whatever they put in the work to accomplish.
“I wanted my three other children to know nothing’s impossible,” she said.
Students in Cook’s classroom have also heard about their teacher training to run a marathon and succeeding. She said she hopes they will realize they too are capable of setting and meeting their own goals.
“I tell my students, if you set your mind to a goal, you can accomplish anything ...,” Cook said.
Cook said she is thankful for the support she has received from family, friends and teachers at both Oak Grove and Waterville schools, as well as other members of the community.
When people look at Luke, she said she hopes they will notice the progress he has made. She said Luke disagreed with his doctors’ predictions that he would never walk again. That’s why Cook is eager to share the story of her determination as she got ready to run. In addition to being “his legs that day,” she is still acting as his voice for now.
“I want people to know that life’s not easy, but you can’t focus on the negative,” said Cook. “Luke is not supposed to be here. I can only say I’m honored to be on this journey with Luke.”