Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Dave Cooper, Force of the Awesome

Sometime back, I saw a Facebook post lamenting the number of male protagonists who were little more than over-idealized versions of the author.  This isn’t any kind of new insight; I think it passed out of being a trope and crashed headlong into cliché about the time of Homer. 
I can’t deny that David Fraser, my main character and narrator, has some elements of wish fulfilment to him.  Mea culpa.  But, reading the original poster’s comment, my first reaction was, ‘Good thing I didn’t base him on Coop’.

Dave Cooper and I met at work ages ago and he was a regular player in the D&D campaigns I used to run, until he decided to go jaunting off to Antarctica for a season at McMurdo.  I still think he was crazy for doing it; bloody penguins don’t even play D&D…
These days, Coop is a fireman/EMT and a student of Brazilian Jujitsu.  I turned to him for advice on the aftermath of a car crash and procedures first responders would follow and wound up writing him into the scene we’d discussed. 
It hadn’t occurred to me until I read that line on Facebook, but… I’d really missed an opportunity by only using Coop as a walk-on character.  The guy has more story than that.    
Ladies and gentlemen, Dave Cooper.
Q: What motivated you to go to Antarctica?  Did you find (for lack of a better term) what you were looking for, either in the experience or in yourself?
For lack of a better term, I’d say I was looking for an adventure.  I was at a good point in my life, both professionally and romantically, but I was looking for something more.  I saw an opportunity to do something unique, and maybe a little crazy, and went for it.  I did learn a lot while I was down there.  The people I met certainly opened my eyes up to the world going on outside my comfort zone.  Travelling through Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific on the way back to the states gave me a great perspective on the world outside of the U.S.
Q: What was the most surprising thing you learned about daily life in Antarctica?
Life at McMurdo was certainly different than what you might believe initially.  It had a lot of comforts that you might not expect.  There was a couple of bars, a coffee house, two lane bowling alley, bouldering cave.  They made every effort to find ways to keep you from going stir crazy. 

Coop at McMurdo
Q: You know I have to use the picture of you posing on the firetruck – it’s almost a defining example of a ‘go forth and be awesome’ moment.  Was there anything you wanted to do but weren’t able to get to while you were there? 
I should answer this one by explaining the picture.  In the early-mid 80’s (don’t quote me on the date), the US Men’s Soccer Team got in a little trouble for taking a team picture wearing just Reeboks and a strategically placed soccer ball.  I somehow got it in my head that I wanted to do the same thing.  New Years Eve 2002 I stripped down and climbed onto one of the ARFF (Aircraft Rescue Fire Fighting) rigs for the picture, wearing just bunker boots and a helmet. 
As for regrets, I would have liked to be able to make it to the South Pole.  There were not many opportunities to make it there while I was working.  There were some short daytrips that were offered periodically o get you a change in scenery.  We even did the “Happy Camper” school, where you learn cold weather survival skills and got to camp out in a snow mound on the Ross Ice Shelf. (Which was a lot more fun than it sounds!)
Q: If you had your pick of ‘crazy places to work’ and ‘crazy jobs’ (however you define those terms), where would you go and what would you do?
I can always say I’d like to be an astronaut or an NFL player if I wanted to go for the obvious, but I’ve got to say that I’ve got the job that I want, and it’s plenty crazy at times. 

Q: What drew you to the fire\EMS services?
I worked at a retirement accounts company for 5 years out of school because I thought that was what you were “supposed to do”.  I was never really happy and knew I wanted to do something else.  One day I dove up on a pretty major car accident and got out to help, but didn’t know what to do.  The next semester I went into EMT school and I’ve been addicted since.  There are no many jobs where you can actively make a difference in people’s lives every day.
Q: What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
I’d have to say that it’s making a difference in people’s lives.  We don’t often get a chance to truly step in and save someone’s life, but we touch people’s lives every day.  They call us when they’re at their worst and we have to come into whatever situation they’ve got and make it better.  Firefighters get a lot of respect from the public for the job we do and I try every day to earn that respect.
Q: Most people run away from fires and other dangerous situations.  Your job is to run towards them.  How do you prepare yourself mentally and emotionally to do that?
I think that most people run from a situation not because they’re “afraid” but because they can’t process the information and rationalize what’s going on around them.  We train for all sorts of emergencies (fires, medical calls, hazardous materials incidents. . .).  When a problem comes up it’s more like a puzzle that we need to solve.  We identify the problem, make a plan and then implement the plan.  It’s just another day at the office.
Q: How do you respond when political leaders or members of the public refer to you and other first responders as heroes?
I think anyone on the job would say that we just dismiss it.  We’re just doing our job.  Just because it comes to the forefront in a time of crisis doesn’t mean that there aren’t thousands of first responder out there every day, just doing what we do.
Q: What is the strangest thing you’ve seen as a first responder?
That’s a tough one.  Between working in the Emergency Department of an area hospital, time on an ambulance and almost 15 years on the fire department I’ve seen some interesting sights.  Recently we were responding to an early morning grass fire, as we pulled up I said something I never thought I would have to, “Are those guys wearing Ghostbusters outfits?” Sure enough, there were three teenagers in Ghostbusters jumpsuits putting out the fire with fire extinguishers.  Every day brings a new story and a new cast of characters.  I heard a story about a salty old firefighter who was giving a presentation to a class of small kids.  The guy told them that he had been on every type of call there is.  Then one of the kids put his hand up and asked if he’d ever been on a shark attack. [crickets]  Just when you think you’ve seen it all. . .  
Q: How has your study of martial arts changed you?
I think it brings me a lot of focus.  It’s easy to get caught up in the daily stress of life.  When you can find a productive outlet for that stress it makes life’s bumps and bruises easier to cope with.  It also gives you a lot of perspective on life and what’s important.  After a handful of kickboxing fights I found that day to day stressors were not as important.  When you prove to yourself that you can handle that, you can handle anything.
“After fighting, everything in your life got the volume turned down.”  --Fight Club
Q: What attracted you to study these specific fighting styles? Are there others you’d like to study if given the opportunity?
I’ve studied many different styles over the years.  I’ve studied Kenpo, Kuntao Silat, Karate, Muay Thai, American Kickboxing, Traditional Jiu Jitsu and most recently Brazillian Jiu Jitsu. I have found my love in BJJ.  The art is much more cerebral than how it may seem from the outside.  Being a big, strong guy I’ve always been able to muscle my way through other arts.  In BJJ I was humbled by an instructor who was literally half my size.  I love the flexibility and adaptive nature of the art.  Each person is able to find their own path on heir “journey” and find what works for them.  It’s not a cookie cutter approach.
In retrospect, I would have liked to study more Japanese Jiu Jitsu or another art that has more of a focus on weapons.  There’s nothing the ladies love more than a guy with mad bo staff skills.
Q: What are the top three items on your ‘bucket list’? Bull-leaping, perhaps, or playing in the Klingon Rollerball league?
Being a fan of good beer, I want to hit every brewery in Colorado.  I’d also like to make it to all seven continents.  Who knows what else, maybe go paragliding.

Q: What is the secret to being a force of the awesome?
I wouldn’t claim that I know the secret to being a force of the awesome but I will say that when I stopped worrying about what others thought or expected of me and started living the life I felt I was meant to live, I was a much happier and successful person. 
You’ve gotta pick yourself up by the bootstraps.  No ones gonna help you out when you fall.  You’ve gotta find a way out of your problems.  When you’re broke and you’re backed up against the wall.  If you sleep on your only chances, they’ll never come around again.  So dig deep and swing for the fences, you never know it might work out in the end.”  --Dropkick Murphys

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