COVINGTON, Ga. - Just five days after Covington Police Department Officer Matt Cooper was shot in the line of duty, the 35th annual Fuzz Run made history with the event's largest race turnout. In its 36th year, Officer Cooper is asking Newton County to get behind him once again as he plans to lead off the 1-mile fun run at 8 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 14.
"Last year, (Matt's) survival was in question and his mobility was not at the forefront of his battle," Kristen Cooper, Matt's wife, told The Covington News. "Matt began his fight back to health and experienced the grueling stages of recovery. In January, Matt was in a wheelchair; February, he was using a cane; and now is able to walk with no adaptive devices.
"He has prepared for this race in different ways. He attends an intensive workout program at the Shepherd Center three days a week, participates in DDP Yoga, and completes other workouts during the week."
Kristen said she is inspired by her husband and looks forward to this event as a way to show gratitude for the community.
"As a wife, I am thankful to have a husband that demonstrates a strong moral character and work ethic for our children. Watching him struggle to overcome obstacles with a 'never quit, never surrender' mentality inspired me on my dark days," she said. "We are proud of Matt and this race is an opportunity for Matt to thank our community and demonstrate how hard he is working toward complete recovery. Matt frequently states that he will continue to fight to show our community that their prayers and support are not in vain. God has protected and blessed Matt."
CPD Capt. Ken Malcom said one year ago everyone was focused on Matt's survival.
"None of us envisioned that a year later that he would be actually running in the 1-mile portion of the race," he said. "This community has been so overwhelmingly supportive of that family, our department and law enforcement."
This year's focus has shifted to a celebration of Matt's recovery.
"Here's a chance to do one more thing for Matt," he said. "You can literally get behind him and when he goes and he runs next Saturday, we'd love to see all of Newton County in line behind him, walking a mile in his honor.
"He wants that. He's asking for people to do that."
Last year, Kristen sent a video message from the hospital thanking the community for its support. This year, she is looking forward to participating in the Fuzz Run in person.
"We are awestruck by the outpouring of love and support that was extended to our family," she said. "The realization that life actually can completely change in the blink of an eye is our reality. We all planned to participate in the Fuzz Run last year. It is an event that our family looks forward to every year.
"I never imagined I would be thanking the participants for their support while Matt fought for his life. This journey, to this race today, has been full of hills and valleys. Initially, we did not know if Matt would survive or how the injury would affect his mental and physical capabilities. The medical staff was supportive and hopeful but prepared us for the fact that Matt could potentially be bedridden or, at minimum, wheelchair-dependent. This obviously was not the outcome.
"God has protected Matt. He equipped him with the mental and physical fortitude to continue pushing forward. Our family is thankful for the opportunity to cheer Matt on as he participates in the Fuzz Run."
CPD Sgt. Allen Martin, race director, said registration for the 1-mile fun run and the rest of the event's races are still open and can be completed online at www.covingtonfuzzrun.com. Martin said registration for the 5k timed race also includes entry into the 1-mile fun run.
"Run with us, not from us!"CPD Sgt. Allen Martin, race director
Outside of Matt's appearance, the 36th year will also mark a milestone for the Fuzz Run, as it has moved locations and will start on Newton Drive instead of its previous route, which kicked off at CPD headquarters.
Both the 1-mile fun run and the 5k races will kick off in front of the Little Red School House.
This change of venue will allow for an even larger event to take place at Legion Field in conjunction with the races.
Martin said some things to look for at this year's the Legion Field event, which will kick off from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday, Sept. 13 with the Fuzz Run Expo, include food trucks, a kid's zone and vendors from all over the region.
All proceeds from the Fuzz Run event go back to support the community through the Covington Police Who Care, a 501(c)3 that annually contributes to organizations like the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, Special Olympics, YMCA, Project Renewal, Miracle League and Shop with a Cop.
"What we're able to do in the community every single year for people who have experienced some type of hardship ... there are very few police or sheriff's departments in the U.S. that can go to the scene of some horrific situation and come away and have a plan to do something beyond our normal policing functions," Malcom said. "We can also help people in those situations through our organization.
"Not only does it help the people that are experiencing the hardship, but it also does something for the officers to know they are able to go beyond the call and have the ability to do that, to me, has always been a tremendous uplifting experience for the officers to know they can do a little more."
Kristen said PWC has been supportive of her family during Matt's recovery.
"They have organized fundraisers, helped with transportation to and from therapy, and honestly, anything that we have asked they have fulfilled," she said. "We are appreciative of the department and find comfort knowing that our family has not and will not be alone during this difficult time. Matt is proud to live in Covington and work for the Covington Police Department."
For more information about the race, registration or sponsorship, visit http://www.covingtonfuzzrun.com.