By Danielle S. Tepper
Nick Pope of Pen Argyl is a self-proclaimed “average bloke off the street.” He lived in England until he was 26 and while he didn’t necessarily grow up running, he was active in athletics. He’s got “the runner’s high,” he says. “As long as I have that, I’m going to keep running.” He’s now turned that drive and dedication into a fundraising initiative, “Pope Runs for Hope,” and looks to run one race a month in 2014 in order to donate money to Lauren’s Hope Foundation.
Lauren Flood was born via Caesarean section at 37 weeks on April 23, 2003. She developed spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy after a spontaneous placental abruption caused oxygen deprivation to her brain. She also developed a seizure disorder. At four and a half years old, she unexpectedly passed away through the night shortly before Christmas of 2007 after suffering a massive seizure that caused respiratory failure.
“I kind of knew right away that I would want to do something,” said Ann Flood, Lauren’s mother and president of Lauren’s Hope Foundation. “I learned so much with Lauren; what it takes to find treatment and funding what insurance doesn’t cover. I wanted to help other children with brain injuries.”
Flood started the foundation, which is based in Bath, just six months after Lauren’s death and held their first major fundraiser three months after that. The foundation hosted a golf tournament, followed by a children’s Christmas party where they gave out adapted toys (toys made specially for children with special needs).
“For most of them, it’s the only Christmas they get, which is heart-breaking,” said Flood. “The parents just can’t afford it; the adapted toys are so expensive.”
Lauren’s Hope now hosts at least one fundraiser a month, with three big ones each year.
Lauren’s Hope partnered with Lehigh Valley Hospital in 2010. Flood’s ultimate goal has been to start a head cooling program. Studies have shown that babies who experience oxygen deprivation to the brain can be helped by cooling within the first six hours of life. Cooling stops the metabolic reaction in the brain, slows down the rate of cell damage, and lessens possible disabilities.
Flood’s foundation was part of LVH’s development and saw the technology become available after two and a half years.
“It was very bittersweet,” said Flood. “It was too late for Lauren, but at least now they have something for babies like her.”
Flood is now hoping to raise money for cooling transport blankets, because the sooner a baby can be cooled, the better the outcome. The blankets and a transport unit would cost $18,000, making that Flood’s goal for 2014. And that’s where Nick Pope comes running in.
Pope met Ann Flood at a wrestling tournament in March of 2013 and learned about the Lauren’s Hope Foundation. It wasn’t their chance meeting that spurred him into the deal though; it was watching his running partner collapse during a race.
“I was doing a mud run up at Shawnee Mountain and I turned around at one point and this guy was white. Turns out his electrolytes were low and he went right down,” explained Pope. “And I started thinking, why am I doing this? There should be a reason. So I came up with the idea of running for a foundation or a cause.”
There is certainly no shortage of local charities, but Pope remembered Lauren’s Hope and reached out to Ann right away.
“This is something I came up with out of the blue,” said Pope. “I said to Ann, I don’t even know where to begin with this.”
“We met at Detzi’s in Wind Gap and chatted over pieces of scrap paper,” laughed Flood.
Pope ran his first race for Lauren’s Hope in September of 2013 and came in 46th out of 4,288 runners.
“When you’re running for something, for a cause, it’s amazing how your brain will offset the pain and your breathing,” said Pope. “I ran a 20-minute 5K. I’ve never done that before! It’s the focus of the cause that keeps me going.”
It also helps that a crowd of runners will part to let a “runner that cares” pass through. “That’s all you have to say, ‘runner that cares’ and they all move to one side,” explained Pope.
For each run, Pope wears a T-shirt printed with the name of the foundation, the name of his venture, and the names of his sponsors. His goal is to gather as many sponsors as possible and act as a human billboard. He pays each entry fee out of his own pocket and 100% of the money he raises goes directly to Ann and her foundation.
“I know I’m nobody famous,” said Pope. “Who wants to sponsor a guy off the street? Why would you? I thought about that, but it’s not me, it’s Lauren’s Hope. Do they feel the same as I do about Lauren’s Hope? Anybody can do it. We can all do it, it’s just do you want to?”
Pope has been trying to gather local sponsors because “everybody sees it. They’ll know you’re making a difference,” he said. “I’m doing it because I want to help and I like to run. Why not drive something? I used to joke and say Hope Pushes Pope. And it’s true.”
November’s run was a Spartan Sprint in Boston. Pope placed 139th place out of 8,000. “But I can always do better,” he said. To that end, he hopes to persuade sponsors to donate based on his performance. “I’m always thinking of ways to raise more money.”
“The difference that one guy is making is incredible,” said Flood. “He raised over $1,000 in just a couple months.”
“I don’t see the money,” said Pope. “Pick any charity and you may not know where exactly the money goes. I know Ann is giving it directly to those kids. That’s where I see it.”
Pope was in a motorcycle accident around six years ago. It took him a year and a half to walk right again and three years to make a full recovery. He credits that experience to giving him the drive to keep pushing himself to new levels.
“Life’s too short to sit around,” said Pope. “Did it take a motorcycle accident? No, it took recovering from a motorcycle accident. You come home every day and look at five kids and think, you want to look at five kids. You can do this, you can be that person.”
His five young kids and supportive wife are his biggest fans.
“They know what I’m doing is the right thing, even though my wife sometimes thinks I’m nuts,” he laughed. “I couldn’t do it without them.”
Going into 2014, Pope is scheduled to run one major race each month. Aside from collecting sponsors, both he and Flood are hoping to create a Forrest Gump effect by inspiring people to run with him.
“I’d love to see a big crowd of people just following him around,” laughed Flood. “This might be his midlife crisis; some people buy a fancy car, Nick runs for a year.”
“When I’m running, I always push my body to the limit,” Pope said. “But you have to stop somewhere—Forrest Gump stopped.”
For January, Pope has yet to decide between the Ice Scraper in Allentown and Chilly Cheeks in Reading. He is, however, accepting running buddies.
“Anyone with a New Year’s resolution, come and join me!” he said. “There’s never enough when it comes to charity.”
Pope used to be a smoker and quit cold turkey. “It’s willpower; you either have it or you don’t. This was never on my bucket list, it’s not something I dreamt of,” he explained. “But I have to do it. You either want to or you don’t. You’ve got to do it, because if you stop, it’s like anything else—you can’t just not feel like it. I don’t know how far I’m going to go or can go with this. But if I stop, those kids don’t get the money.”
Sounds like the sky’s the limit for this runner who cares.
Interested in donating to Pope Runs for Hope or Lauren’s Hope Foundation? Visit www.facebook.com/PopeRunsforHope and www.laurenshopefoundation.com for more information. Runners who’d like to join Nick Pope for a race can contact him via Facebook, as can any local business willing to sponsor him.