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Mike Cook

One of the really nice aspects of belonging to the Rady JCC is that you can meet so many different people there who have such interesting stories to tell.

Over the past few years I’ve developed a passing acquaintance with one such individual: Mike Cook. Mike is well known as a prominent defense attorney in this city, but when you see anyone working out and schmoozing while they’re at the Rady JCC, you don’t always know what that person does – or did for a living, as the case may be.
I think it was Ivan Master (of Boutique La Femme) who first introduced me to “Cookie”, as Ivan referred to Mike. Ever smiling, as the years have gone on, I’ve noticed that Mike can be seen engaging in conversation with numerous individuals – much more than he can be seen actually exercising! (If you didn’t know, by the way, exercising your gums is as much a part of most individuals’ routines at the Rady JCC as exercising your body.)
In addition to his duties as a defense attorney, Mike told me that he’s president of the Manitoba Criminal Justice Association.

Still, Mike looks to be in awfully good shape – so it occurred to me that he must be involved in more exercise activity than what I’ve seen him doing while he’s at the Rady JCC. So, I asked him how he manages to stay looking so fit, considering that he spends almost as much time talking with other Rady members as he does exercising (something of which I’m just as much guilty as Mike).
It turns out that Mike is also an avid runner – something he’s been doing for years. Not only is he a dedicated runner himself, for the past five years Mike has been coaching other runners each year – with the goal of running  in and finishing the Manitoba Marathon.
On top of all that, Mike is also president of the Manitoba Marathon Board of Directors.
This past year, Mike told me, he actually coached a group of 45 runners for the Marathon, 44 of whom finished the run. Mike says that the runners would meet at the Running Room in the Kenaston Village Mall each week beginning in February where he would talk with them as a group before setting out for a run in preparation for the eventual 26 mile run which, this year, was held June 16.

Now, while I thought a story about Mike’s success as a running coach might be inspiring, I told him that I needed two things in order to get this story idea by my editor. (I’m not kidding: I’m as tough on myself when it comes to considering story ideas as I am on any of our freelancers when they run story ideas by me.)
I said to him: I need a Jewish angle and I need a real feel-good story as part of the larger story. I asked whether any Jews were part of his running group and I asked whether anyone had a particularly captivating story to tell about running in this year’s marathon.
So – Mike, being quick on his feet (no pun intended) came up with the ingredients that would satisfy my criteria. He told me there were one and a half Jews in the group and there was a terrific story of perseverance as well.
“One and a half Jews?” I wondered. Who were they?


Hayley Rabb

Well, Hayley Rabb, who is also a regular at the Rady JCC, was one of the members of the group, Mike explained. And – he considers himself a half Jew, he said.
After all, he had been a member of the old Y.M.H.A. and he and his family have been members of the Rady JCC ever since it opened in 1997, he noted. Plus – he has a great sense of humour which, according to the famous Pew survey of American Jews, is a prime ingredient of Jewish identity. So, being a member of the Rady JCC and having a great sense of humour certainly qualifies Mike for membership in the tribe in my mind. (Okay, so maybe my test for what it takes for someone to be accepted as Jewish wouldn’t succeed in Israel, where nowadays the Orthodox rabbinate determines who’s Jewish and who’s not, but what the hey, does our Jewish Federation ask anyone coming here from Israel to prove they’re Jewish before they qualify for all sorts of assistance when they say they want to move here? If you say you’re Jewish – and that’s good enough for the Federation, who am I to do demand a higher standard of proof? So, “Cookie” is at least a “cultural Jew” in my mind.)


I decided to email Mike some questions about what got him interested in running and how he came to be coaching other runners? (He was out of town at the time.)
He wrote, “I started running in grade 7 as I was an overweight child and got tired of being called names due to my chubbiness. It was a weight loss motive.”
Over the years, Mike added, he’s run “10 full marathons and about 20 half marathons.”
About five years ago Mike got into coaching other runners, he explained. For the last three years he’s been coaching a full clinic out of the Running Room.
“I coach out of the Kenaston Running Room store,” he said. “This is a very busy store with many great running programs. We have so many runners from the catchment area participating in run clubs from the beginner to the full marathoner trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon. The manager, Lorraine Walton is a tremendous advocate for participation and personal fitness. She directs many people to a clinic to match their current fitness level and goals.”
As part of the training process at the Running Room, not only does Mike give talks about running – along with staff from the Running Room, he  brings in other speakers as well, including physiotherapists and experts from the University of Manitoba.

As for the other Jew in Mike’s group, Hayley Rabb, she told me she’s been a dedicated runner since she was 10. (She’s now 26.) Hayley explained that, earlier this year, Mike suggested to her that she join his runners’ group and then enter the Manitoba Marathon. (Hayley had run in one other marathon prior to this year’s, she noted.)
But, although she was interested in training with the others in Mike’s group, Hayley wasn’t particularly attracted to the idea of training outside in the cold, she explained. So, she waited until April to begin running with the others. In the meantime though, Hayley was running anywhere from 16-18 miles a day – something she does all year round, she added.
Ultimately, Hayley did do very well in this year’s marathon, finishing in a time of 3:48:54 – good enough to rank 30th among all female runners, and a full seven minutes better than her previous marathon.
I asked Hayley whether she plans on running with Mike’s group again next year and she said she did. “Mike’s a great guy,” she said.

Tara Gill

Okay – there’s the Jewish angle to the story. Now, here’s the feel-good component that should be the inspirational part. (Cue the music from “Chariots of Fire”.)

Tara Gill is a former RCMP constable who has had to deal with various physical challenges over the years, including a “chronic knee issue. I was injured 20 years ago and my knee has quite deteriorated,” she explained. “My knee is pretty much shot…bone on bone. I’ve had three knee surgeries.”
Not only that, Tara has suffered two concussions in her lifetime, the most recent one having occurred in 2012 – which have only added to the difficulty she was already experiencing while running.
Yet, despite the pain that Tara has experienced for years when she runs, she has shown amazing perseverance. “I’ve done about a dozen half-marathons,” she noted, “and I’ve done three half Ironman races.”
Tara said she met Mike Cook during her time with the RCMP. (He was the lawyer for several of her “clients”, she wryly noted.) “Between 2004 and 2010 they ran a lot of half marathons together,” she added.
Tara retired from the RCMP in 2016, but despite the pain she encounters when she runs, she did compete in a half Ironman competition in Arizona in October 2017 (which consists of a 1900 meter swim, a 90 kilometre bike road, and a half marathon).
To make matters even worse, in January Tara re-injured herself when she “fell down some stairs” and “couldn’t run for a while”.
She ended up joining Mike’s running clinic in April, once she was adequately recovered from her latest injury.
Still, I wondered how Tara was able to cope with the pain while she would put herself through such grueling challenges as participating in Ironman competitions and full marathons.
“I can tolerate it,” she answered glibly.
When she ran the Manitoba Marathon, Tara, along with two other runners, was allowed to start an hour ahead of the other runners (at 6:00 am, rather than 7:00 am). Tara said that not only was Mike’s coaching of great help, she also had the support of another runner by the name of Dave Fielder (who has run in and finished 120 marathons). Dave was preparing to run in a New York ultra marathon so, rather than running in the Manitoba Marathon, he accompanied and supported riders on his bicycle.
“Between mile 18 and 26 he stayed with me and was giving me ice and cold drinks,” Tara said.
 He convinced the race officials to “let me keep going even though the sweep bus was coming,” She also paid tribute to the coaching that Mike Cook had provided during his clinics.
“The whole aspect of keeping going and not quitting” is something that Mike was able to imbue in his runners. “It kept me going,” Tara acknowledged.
“I was really happy that Mike stayed at the finish line – along with a bunch of other people from my clinic, ” she added. (That would have been after 2:00 pm – hours after all the other runners who had completed the marathon had finished).
Asked to sum up Mike’s contribution to her ultimate success in completing the marathon, Tara said: “Mike’s very conscientious – and kind. He’s a strong person and he’s very community minded.”
After reading this you should be thinking to yourself: “If someone with those limitations can find the strength to enter a marathon or an Ironman competition, why can’t I?” On the other hand, you can be like me and say that I’ll let Mike Cook do what he does best and I’ll stick to what I do best, which is cheering him on while I sit at my computer exercising my fingers.

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