Occupation: Sports editor, Blount Today
Stefan Cooper’s last car was a Dodge Daytona Turbo Z - in his words: “a junker.”
It was 1984, and the Alcoa High School graduate was a U.S. Navy petty officer stationed at Banger Submarine Base outside Seattle.
On the radio, Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” stirred patriotic feelings in Stefan. In a bid to support the domestic auto worker, he traded in an almost-paid-off, “tricked out” Toyota Celica he loved for the Daytona. His buyer’s remorse has lasted almost 30 years.
Stefan bought the car when he was stationed in Charleston, and, in less than a year, the vehicle had broken down three times with problems to the clutch, turbocharger and transmission. Months later he was returning to the base near Seattle when he passed a guy riding a bicycle on the shoulder. A short time later Stefan saw this same man ride up to the barracks and inspiration struck.
“I was so mad about that car, I bought a bike, put it in the trunk, drove to the dealer, took the hit on my credit and turned it back in,” he says.
Instead of saving for a car, he progressively bought better, more expensive bicycles. When he was discharged from the Navy and began attending classes as a finance major at the University of Tennessee, Stefan commuted to campus on his bicycle.
As a sports writer for the UT newspaper, The Daily Beacon, his first story was with Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt.
“If you’ve never met Pat Summitt, there is something about her eyes. After the second question, I froze. She could’ve crushed me like a bug,” he says. “I always thank Pat Summitt because she was really gracious. She has a real respect for people.”
When he got a job as a daily sports reporter in Maryville, he continued to ride because all the high schools he covered were within six miles of each other. He has never lost that love of riding.
What the Blount Today sports editor says he enjoys most is telling the stories of those young people who are competing.
“What I try to focus on is never the score. It’s the player inside the helmet. You can apply that to any sport,” he says. “That is why I dig it. Life is risk, and those kids put it right out there.”
Here is Stefan Cooper:
What is your favorite quote from television or a movie?
“Boxer Mike Tyson had a beauty once: ‘Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.’”
What are you guilty of?
“My mom got me a membership card to Procrastinators Anonymous when I was 10. There are a lot more than 12 steps, so we’re still working on it.”
What is your favorite material possession?
“My San Marco Rolls Italian bicycle saddle - only my friend, Melissa, knows this story. I’d owned a Rolls when I started cycling 27 years ago. I remembered loving the way it rode. I wasn’t happy with the saddle I had at the time, so, a little over two years ago last December, I ordered another Rolls. Two weeks later in early January, I buried my mother - the single most devastating day of my life.
“After the service, I went over to Melissa’s house, and Cycology Bicycles called to say the Rolls had come in. I had to do something with all that grief, so I went and picked it up, bolted it on and went for a ride. Perfect. Priscilla Cooper never boasted of knowing a whole lot about a whole lot, but she knew how much I loved cycling, how much it sustained me. I took it as her way of saying, ‘Goodbye.’”
What are you reading currently?
“Harper’s Index,” from “Harper’s Magazine.” You wouldn’t believe the stuff they have in there. For instance, did you know there are three U.S. states that have more pigs than people? Or that, in 2005, 62 percent of Americans polled said they would vote for George W. Bush over George Washington for president? - Thanks for the hookup, Emily Winsauer.”
What was your most embarrassing moment?
“I’m 50 years old. I’ve got a thousand of those I could pick from.”
What are the top three things on your bucket list?
“Really only have one. Most of my other cycling dreams - the first black rider to race the Tour de France, the Olympics - have long since been smashed to smithereens, but I’d still like to ride my bike across the United States. I made it from Seattle to Salt Lake City in six days on my first attempt the week I got out of the Navy. Crashed the bike on a bridge and had to take a bus the rest of the way home. I’d sure like to try again some time. The Rockies left me awestruck.”
What is one word others often use to describe you and why?
“Melissa uses ‘stubborn’ an awful lot.”
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
“I’d be rich. I’ve been poor all my life. It’s not all it’s cracked up to be.”
What is your passion?
With whom, living or dead, would you most like to have a long lunch?
“Halle Berry. Aubrey’s. And she’s wearing her Catwoman suit.”
If you could go back in time for a week, what time period or year would you visit?
“I have this picture of my mom from when she was in high school. She’s got on some of those big, cat-eye glasses, and she’s smiling. I think I would have liked that kid. We get to know our parents after they’ve been down the road a few miles. What were they like when they were us?”
What is the best present you ever received in a box?
“My brother, Dwight, gave me a BB gun for Christmas once. And no, I did not shoot my eye out.”
What is the best advice your mother ever gave you?
“‘Pay more attention to what people do, not what they say.’ I think she was channeling Emerson, my favorite writer: ‘But do your work, and I shall know you.’”
Other than your parents, who has had the biggest influence on your life and why?
“My publisher, Sherri Gardner Howell. She gave me a shot. That can really matter.”
Do you Myspace, Facebook or Twitter?
“No, thank you.”
What’s the worst job you have ever had?
“I was a dish washer at UT hospital after I got out of high school.”
What was your favorite Saturday morning cartoon and why?
“Bugs was the king. End of story.”
What irritates you?
“While no one would ever mistake me for Denzel, not in a million years, the right side of my face is much better looking than the left side.”
What’s one place in Blount County everyone should visit?
“The top of Foothills Parkway on a moonlit night after you’ve ridden your bike up there. Go up from the Walland entrance. Less than a mile past Look Rook tower, there’s a parking area that looks out toward the North Carolina mountains - worth it every time.”
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself at 18?
“Cool off and marry Daisy. If nothing else, as my cousin, Denise, once said, ‘You would have had some pretty kids.’”
I still can’t quite get the hang of…
“Deadlines. Ask my boss.”
If you could do one impulsive thing, what would it be?
“Hop on a plane and go see the Paris to Roubaix, France, bicycle race. The Tour de France may be the most prestigious, the Giro d’Italia the most romantic - Italian babes, Italian bikes, the Dolomites - but Paris-Roubaix has to be the single most brutal one-day sporting event on the planet. Dial it up on YouTube. You’ll see.”