Former drug addict running Western States to raise funds for disabled athletes
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Ten years had passed since the last time they had talked. Both had experienced some difficult situations since their time playing rugby together at Jesuit High School.
It was some five years ago when Christopher Waters of Sacramento heard the word that his classmate, Dominic Cook, became paralyzed from the waist down after a devastating car crash in 2001.
“We reconnected after about 10 years of not seeing each other,” Waters recalls. “I shared my life story with him, about the challenges I went through and the challenges he went through. I told him I’d like to be an ambassador of the Team Try For Others (non-profit organization that supports active lifestyles for the disabled) and launch it through the Western States.”
Waters, who will run in the June 29 100-mile endurance run to help raise awareness and funds to provide special-needs athletes with scholarships, has taken a different life path than Cook. But he, too, has faced adversity in different ways.
When Waters was 20 years old, he got out of the military and into drugs.
First it was ecstasy. Then it was methamphetamines. Eventually he ended up in rehab.
“It completely changed who I was for a two-year period,” says Waters, who claims not to be an elite athlete but has completed several 100-milers. “My upbringing is with a great family. I went to a great school; not your typical drug addict upbringing. I threw it all away and lost track with who I was as an individual. I had to claw my way out of that.
“I had to go to rehab. My parents set extremely strong boundaries. They said I had to succeed on my own to make it. It was probably the best thing that happened to me. I was given everything as a child. It helped me grow up. I’m glad it happened. It made me who I am today.”
Today he’s helping others through his running — and he’s been clean for 14 years.
“It makes it that much more special to know I’m running for a cause,” says Waters, 34, who works for a search engine optimization (SEO) partner development company in Sacramento. “I’m going to go through the challenges. At some point I’ll be broken down but to know there’s a motivating force will make it that much more special.”
Cook became handicapped at 19.
“A kid that gets paralyzed has a lot of challenges to accept that lifestyle,” Waters says. “We had a very interesting conversation when we reconnected.
“… I found out that after the car accident he went back to UC Berkeley, graduated from Berkeley and got into hand cycling. It is sort of parallel to ultrarunning and the Western States. It piqued a huge interest.”
Cook, a former rugby player at Cal, initially struggled with his situation.
“Any time something like that happens in anybody’s life, it’s hard to initially accept,” he says. “You look at the things you can’t do and you’re reminded of that all of the time.”
Cook, 33, ended up doing rehab in France and San Diego. While in Southern California he decided to go back to school because he didn’t want to become a “beach bum.”
He found inspiration through a quote by the legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden:
“Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”
The Wizard of Westwood’s words have helped form Team Try For Others’ motto and mantra.
“It’s something that really helped me and changed my perspective when I read it,” Cook says. “It taught me there’s something I can do and I’m going to go after it.”
Cook initially started Try For Others to help injured rugby players, but over time the non-profit has expanded.
“One of the things we do is scholarships,” Cook says, “but our mission statement is encouraging health and wellness by supporting active lifestyles for those with disabilities.
“That’s how we’re doing it right now, by supporting athletes that want to make Paralympics teams that don’t have funds to bridge their gap. We’ve helped three local athletes this year to Paralympics and stuff like it.”
Trying for others
Through grassroots efforts, Waters has helped Team Try For Others raise some $2,300 with donations coming from family, friends and local businesses for his upcoming run. He’s hoping to gather more in the upcoming days.
“They provide scholarships for disabled athletes to compete at a high level,” Waters says of Team TFO. “That’s right in line with what I believe in: to touch individuals’ lives and make them better. I feel that’s my sole purpose in life.”
Adds Cook: “He said he’d like to run for Team TFO. I was happy to have him aboard. He’s been awesome, so far. After hearing his story and knowing what he’s doing from where he is, it’s one of those things that TFO is for. It’s about inspiring people. It doesn’t matter if you have a disability, you can be inspired by anybody. Those are the type of people that we love to have join Team TFO.”
Cook, who has hand-cycled at major races such as the LA Marathon, plans on coming out for the conclusion of the Western States, which starts in Squaw Valley at 5 a.m. and ends on the track at Placer High School by night.
“I’m hoping to get on my bike and do the last couple of miles with (Waters) around the track, hand cycling,” Cook says.
Waters, himself, is looking forward to running the prestigious Western States race for the first time.
“It’s going to be extremely exciting,” Waters says, “and hot.”