by Deb Proctor
From spring slush to the last rustle of frost coated fallen leaves, Jen Anderson and her friends ride the back roads, hills, and valleys of rural Dane County training forIronMan Wisconsin, one of the toughest and most popular IronMan triathlon events in North America. IronMan athletes are a dedicated lot. They have to be — it is not an easy feat to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, and then run a 26.2-mile marathon all in less than 17 hours (Jen finished in 13:26:53 in 2012.)
To build the stamina and endurance they need for this grueling race, it takes training — lots of training. Jen and her friends bike the steep hills and bank the sharp curves of Southwestern Wisconsin, day in and day out, all summer long.
Yet how does that daily procession of riders affect the people who live on the IronManWI bike course? Sharing the road with a slow-moving, heart pounding, sweat pouring cyclist climbing a steep hill requires patience and tolerance. Yet most drivers slow down, move over, and wait until they reach the top of the hill to pass safely.
To prove her gratitude for the drivers' courtesy, Jen wanted to do something to say thank you. "I wish I could just bake them cookies or something..." she said after one training ride. And thus, The Cookie Project was born. She would bake cookies for all households on the IronMan Wisconsin bike course.
Adding up the numbers however proved a bit overwhelming — 357 addresses; at even a half dozen per household it added up to over 2,100 cookies! That's a lot of cookies! What had Jen gotten herself into?
That is when the miracle of community came to the rescue. The "Love Army," as she dubbed them, made the enormous task possible. The word went out on Facebook and Twitter, and soon the cookies began to pour in —athletes delivered a couple dozen here, 11, 12, even 13 dozen there, from as far away as Milwaukee. Businesses that support triathlon and cycling athletes — Endurance House, Peak Performance Massage, Integrated Sport and Spine and others — joined Focal Flame Photography in spreading the word, acting as cookie drop locations, and even baking cookies.
Soon delivery day was at hand: Memorial Day, May 27. After packaging cookies into bags with a sincere thank-you message attached, Jen and a few friends hopped into her trusty Jeep and started driving their biking route, hanging bags of cookies on rural mailboxes and delivering them to doors. (Jen captured some videoof the delivery day.) The smiles and thank you responses from the residents she personally encountered made all the work worthwhile.
"I am beyond thankful for all the support to help accomplish this," Jen exclaimed when the cookies were delivered. "We are a community bonded together by our passion for the sport and we need to watch out for one another. I would do anything to keep my friends safe out there. If this cookie project was a reminder to a driver to watch out for cyclists and keeps one of the people I love on the road – mission accomplished."
The goodwill created by Jen and her friends' simple act of kindness was evident in the response of one resident who wrote on The Cookie Project blog,"We’ve lived out here nineteen years, and as competitive cycling has gotten more popular in Dane County, I confess I’ve gotten impatient with all the cyclists all summer... But I will remember your thoughtful cookie gift when I see you this summer and be more broad-minded. Thank you!"
Amazing what a difference a few cookies can make!
So will there be cookies for residents again next year? Jen responded, "Based upon the overwhelming positive response from the residents and also the support from the other athletes, I would love to develop a way that this effort can continue annually. Now I’m thinking of how I can incorporate the rest of the course for next year."
Jen added,"My hope is that this project reignited some responsibility and respect from both the drivers and athletes... anyone that helped with this project has been reminded that we athletes have a responsibility to the drivers to be safe and respectful, just as we request the same from the drivers."
Mission accomplished Jen. Well done!
Focal Flame Photography is honored to support heart-warming community initiatives such as The Cookie Project. For more stories about ordinary people doing amazing things, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.