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Dreams Attained/Dashed – Ireland’s Kevin Cooper on Brown Eliminating Track/XC

(note: this article is in response to Brown University eliminating 11 varsity sports starting in 2021, including men’s track and xc)

 

By Cutting Men’s Track & Field and Cross Country, Brown Slams the Door Shut on A Dream

 

Written by Kevin Cooper, Brown ’13

 

Photo: Kevin Cooper.

 

Growing up in Waterford, Ireland, I never dreamed of anything bigger than my hometown. Sure, I wanted to be the next best footballer and play professionally for Liverpool FC, but, in my heart of hearts, I knew that was never going to be my destiny. A boy can dream though, right?

 

The youngest of four children, I’m the son of working-class parents. My mother, Breda Cooper, one of ten in her family, dropped out of high school when she was fifteen-years-old to work at a local supermarket in order to support her siblings after her father passed away.

 

The nuns at my mother’s school tried to convince her to stay because they saw her potential— but family, and survival, came first. My father, Seamus Cooper, was one of seven in his family. He finished public high school as quick as he could and headed for the trades. But before that, he lost his father, leaving his mother to raise him and his six siblings. My parents had a lot in common: they were born on the same day, in the same year, only two miles apart. And, higher education was never an option for either of them.

 

I didn’t grow up with shiny PlayStations or new Razor flip phones. My mother was a shift worker at Hasbro, and the package of board games she received at Christmas were the bulk of our family’s entertainment.

 

My dad was, and still is, a painter and decorator. My primary school in Waterford is designated as a DEIS (delivering equality of opportunity in school) – DEIS status recognizes that children growing up in a neighborhood like I did are starting out with an uphill battle. The school is resourced to try and help combat social, economic, and educational disadvantage. In other words, I did not grow up dreaming of attending an Ivy League institution.

 

I did, however, grow up in a loving and supportive environment. I wasn’t told I could be anything I wanted to be, but I was given the opportunity to pursue my passions.

 

Somewhere along the way, I was introduced to Cross Country and Track and Field. On my first ever day of practice, I ran five miles. Rather than being hunched over and out of breath like the other kids, I was energized and ready to run five more. I kept showing up after that, and I’m glad I did.

 

A few years down the road, I found myself exhausted on our decaying, local track after a workout when my coach Brendan Quinn suggested I take a look at Brown University, given the fact I was also a standout in the classroom.

 

Disappointed, I asked him “what about Providence College? That’s where you went!” He, along with the Treacy brothers, were my idols and Irish Track Olympians who had gone to school in America. Coach Quinn framed the discussion around the doors putting on a Brown singlet would open for me and my family.

 

Childhood idol and 2-time World XC champion John Treacy, a graduate of Providence College.

 

The truth is, I didn’t know a single thing about Brown. Neither did my parents. Accordingly, the application process was tough. My parents, though loving and supportive through it all, were unable to help me navigate the Common App and everything that went into applying as an international student.

 

My high school guidance counselor couldn’t provide much help either. Somehow, we figured it out. It was never a dream for my family, and without Brown Track and Field, it never would have become our reality.

 

But I was admitted.

 

My admission to Brown University was a proud day for my family. A first-generation student, I proudly rolled onto Brown’s campus in August 2009 ready to take on the world.

 

Truthfully, though, I was a little afraid. This was my first time away from my family and in a foreign country— I had never even seen the campus! But my transition to life in America was made easier by my walking right into another family: The Brown Varsity Cross Country and Track and Field Team. In the classroom, on the track, men’s team, women’s team— it was clear that it didn’t matter who you were or where you came from, this team was a family.

 

And it supported me like a family until I walked out the Van Wickle gates on graduation day in 2013. Early that day, my parents staked out a cheering spot for themselves right on the corner of College Hill, a spot where they knew I would be able to see them.

 

I was the only graduating student in my class from Ireland. Despite that, there was no Irish flag among the others on the Main green. Undeterred, my parents tied an Irish flag to an umbrella. When I walked through the gates, the first thing I saw was that makeshift Irish flag being waved with great enthusiasm and pride— now they were part of this family too.

 

My mother once told me she didn’t mind if I went to college. She just wanted me to be happy. After attending my graduation and having the opportunity to become part of the Brown Track and Field family, she could proudly see that I had accomplished both.

 

This opportunity, as my dad acknowledged that day, came from running. Running never cared that my parents were working-class. Running never cared that I went to a DEIS school. Running opened up doors and possibilities that were previously unimaginable for me. Running gave me Brown. Running gave me the American dream.

 

Last week, Brown slammed the door shut on that dream for so many young athletes like me.

 

Brown, I implore you to reverse your decision to cut the Varsity Men’s Cross Country and Track and Field program. Don’t close the door on one of the most socioeconomically diverse teams on campus. Don’t close the door on one of the most culturally diverse teams on campus. Don’t close the door on future generations of kids like me.

 

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