I admit I had to do a double take when I was scrolling through Facebook posts and noticed that Oakland Hills Country Club Director of Agronomy Steve Cook was going to climb a 22,500-foot mountain.
What, isn’t managing a top-100 golf course enough stress for the certified golf course superintendent?
But if you know Steve Cook at all, you know he does things with a purpose. Widely respected for his turfgrass management knowledge, organizational talents and people skills, discipline and focus are tightly woven throughout Cook’s DNA.
He is intent on climbing, but that’s only a means to an end. He’s doing it in support of the Michigan chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which provides resources to children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich their lives. His goal is to raise $1 for every foot of elevation he climbs. For Cook, tying his climb to this cause made sense, because his wife Robin volunteered for the organization for more than 10 years.
“I just felt that if I was going to make a climb like this, then I wanted to do it for a greater purpose,” Cook explains. “The Make-A-Wish organization does such a great job in providing opportunities for children who are facing great challenges. When I met with them I have to admit it was tough learning what these kids are going through. Later on I will get to meet the children who will get to experience their wish through the funds I have raised. That will be tough.”
Cook had long been into backpacking and trail hiking, so he took the next step by training to climb mountains. In 2009, he ascended Mt. Rainier in Washington for his first true mountain climb. Since then he has climbed numerous other peaks and mountain ranges. His training regimen included endurance and strength work at home in Michigan and at altitude in Colorado.
“I feel that challenge opens the door for opportunity and growth,” Cook says. “If you do not challenge yourself, you never really know what you can accomplish. That’s true whether it’s mountain climbing or if it’s your career. Plus, I feel at peace when on top of the mountain. I feel I am closer to God. It’s powerful.”
Plans call for Cook to climb next fall, but the location hasn’t been determined. He’s training with the goal of being in the best shape he has ever been in – quite a goal for a person who will be 56 years old at the time of his trek. He will take a skills assessment to ascertain what climb he is qualified to pursue. One option is the 22,500-foot Ama Dablam peak in Nepal. The other is the Grand Traverse in the Grand Tetons of Wyoming, which is a series of climbs that total roughly the same height.
“The training is something very similar [to what] a triathlete would do,” Cook explains. “You obviously have to be hyperfit, but there is the technical aspect and the emotional side of it. Technically, you have to be good at how you maneuver your feet, manage your gear and position your body. The emotional challenge can be as great as the physical. I have seen young men in their 20s who were the most physically fit in the group pulled out because they weren’t mentally able to handle it.”
Cook says it has been a rewarding experience, not only because of the organization he’s supporting, but because of the support he has received from Oakland Hills staff and members and fellow superintendents – all have contributed funds toward his goal.
“It has been an amazing process,” Cook says. “But I know my challenge is really small compared to what those kids are facing.”
Editor’s note: To learn more about Cook’s adventure, visit his fundraising page at Make-A-Wish Foundation (http://friends.wish.org/022-000/page/Steven-Cook/Steve%27s-Wish-Climb.htm) and his blog (http://wwwsteveswishclimb.blogspot.com/).