Former Tech cadet discovers new athletic calling
In October 2010, James Cook was in an automobile accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down.
Just three years later, the Virginia Tech senior plans to enter today’s Baltimore Running Festival in Baltimore, Md., with his eyes set on bringing home first-place honors.
Cook will look to tackle the 26.2-mile course aboard a hand cycle powered by his arms and as a member of the Kennedy Krieger Institute’s race team.
The institute is a Baltimore-based affiliate of John Hopkins Hospital that specializes in helping children and adolescents with disorders of the brain, spinal cord and musculoskeletal system.
It is also where Cook spends two weeks a year working on his own rehabilitation.
Although this is his first handcycle race, the 22-year-old’s competitive nature has him focused on more than just participating.
“I have to say, I’m looking to win,” Cook said.
Cook graduated from Wicomico High School in Salisbury Md., in 2009 and entered Tech as a member of the Corps of Cadets.
He was in his sophomore year and a midshipman in the Naval Reserve Officer Training program when he was involved in an automobile accident while traveling during a required Corp of Cadets initiation event.
After four weeks in a hospital intensive care unit and three months of occupational rehabilitation in Atlanta, Cook decided to continue his physical rehab through Kennedy Krieger.
Cook returned to Tech in August 2011 to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering, and the lifelong athlete soon found an avenue in which to return to competition in wheelchair sports.
“I played a ton of sports before my accident,” Cook said. “It’s not necessarily the same. I can’t say I don’t miss playing football and lacrosse, but it’s definitely a morale booster.”
Cook has participated in numerous wheelchair basketball and lacrosse tournaments and is currently a member of the Charlottesville Cardinals wheelchair basketball team, which the Hokie made clear is not affiliated with the University of Virginia.
During his most recent winter visit to Kennedy Krieger, Cook said his therapist pitched the idea of him competing in the handcycling portion of today’s race. It was an idea that took very little convincing.
“I was like ‘OK, sign me up,’ ” Cook said.
Cook received a loaner handcycle from the institute in July and began training.
“It was just exciting to undertake something new,” Cook said.
He said he has gotten the bike to reach almost 50 miles per hour on his training session.
Over the course of his injury and recovery, Cook said his girlfriend, Lindsay Bouchard, had always been by his side.
Bouchard and Cook began dating before they entered Tech. She plans to participate in today’s festival also by running in the half-marathon race, her longest race to date.
Also a senior, Bouchard said being able to train together for the milestone event had been a step toward regaining something the accident cost the couple.
“It’s been really awesome. Before the accident we used to run together, so this has given us the opportunity to do these things again,” Bouchard said.
Cook’s race is scheduled to begin today at 7:59 a.m., while Bouchard’s is slated to begin at 9:45 a.m.
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