3,777 mile challenge

Just east of Amarillo, Texas, on Monday, Steven Cooper dribbles a basketball while running in the rain.

He doesn’t think about his journey that started at Coronado Island on July 3.

He doesn’t think about the 1,600 to 1,700 miles he’s ran since then.

And he doesn’t even think about the 26-plus miles he runs and dribbles per day.

The avid runner focuses on the road ahead and keeps his mind clear.

“That’s how I’m able to overcome and just keep going,” Cooper said.

The North Carolina native will make his seventh appearance at The Kauai Marathon & Half Marathon on Sunday.

Unlike past marathons, Cooper will do something a little unique: he’ll dribble a basketball while running.

The Kauai Marathon & Half Marathon is part of Cooper’s current challenge to run and dribble a basketball 3,777 miles across the country.

“We’re challenging ourselves and trying to honor our loved ones that have passed on and pay tribute to them and also encourage and inspire our youth and that’s why I’m doing this,” Cooper said.

Basketball was and continues to be part of Cooper’s life, as the long-distance runner grew up in Indiana, basketball country.

He was inspired to dribble and run when promoters for the 2011 Carrier Classic offered fans tickets to the basketball game, which featured the University of North Carolina playing against Michigan State on the USS Carl Vinson, a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier.

In order to get on board, one would either have to be a veteran, military personnel or do something special to attain seating.

While running the Marine Corps Marathon, Cooper had an aha moment.

“When they handed me my water, it came to me: I need a basketball,” he said. “I saw a kid pulling a rickshaw. I went up to him and asked him where I can get a basketball. All I had on me was a $20 bill. If you can find one, bring it back to me, meet me at the finish, and I’ll make it more than you make out here in a week.”

Cooper got his basketball, dribbled 11.11 miles of that marathon, donated to the Marine Corps Marathon Scholarship fund foundation and got to watch the game.

“That’s why this dribble across the USA started at the Coronado Island naval ship,” he said. “That’s what inspired me to start dribbling.”

The long-distance runner got his start back in 2009, when he weighed in at 220 pounds. At his lowest weight, Cooper tipped the scales at 148 pounds.

“I woke up one day and I looked in the mirror. I looked at myself and I’m like, ‘If I don’t like to look at this, then who would want to look at this?’ he said. “I climbed up the stairs and couldn’t breathe anymore. I got tired of it.”

Cooper couldn’t even run a mile.

He eventually did.

Four months later, he ran The Los Angeles Marathon.

“Nobody ever thinks they’re going to run one,” Cooper said.. “When you do, then it’s in your blood. Then you gotta have the next challenge.”

After his grandmother died in Aug. 31, 2009, Cooper decided to run the 2010 Kauai Marathon in her honor. He hasn’t missed the marathon since then.

“It’s sentimental to me, and it’s one of the best put on events I’ve ever attended,” he said.

At the 2010 marathon, Cooper was inspired by renowned runner Bart Yasso, the “Mayor of Running,” who will be on Kauai for this weekend’s marathon.

“On the plane flight back to Los Angeles, I was reading Bart’s book and I found my next challenge: 56 miles in South Africa,” he said.

“That was the toughest one I’ve ever done,” Cooper recalled.

The year after that, Cooper found himself running the Lean Horse 100, his first 100-mile race. Within a month, he ran his second 100 miler.

Pushing himself further, the North Carolina runner decided to run a marathon a weekend.

In 2014, he was invited to join the Race Across the USA team, a team that runs across the United States to raise money for charitable organizations.

Due to work related issues, Cooper only ran about 270 miles, from Huntington Beach, California, to Parker, Arizona.

The runner will complete his 3,000-plus mile challenge on Veteran’s Day at the Basketball Hall of Fame. But before that, Cooper is set to land on Kauai this Saturday.

The North Carolina native is as excited to represent his three charities: The V Foundation, Wish 4 Heroes and the 100 Mile Club.

Cooper started running for his health, and his hope is that others will challenge themselves to live a healthier life.

“The main thing is get up and try to get active because the more you maintain your body, everything about you will become exuberant and you’ll feel so much better,” he said. “You don’t have to run a marathon. Get up and walk. Walk a half mile. Walk a mile. Try to stay healthy.”

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