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ADVENTURE RACING TOUR OF ADVENTURE COOPER AMONG ATHLETES WHO TRAVEL AROUND WORLD TO COMPETE.

Byline: Bill Becher Staff Writer

It's hard to imagine this petite, well-spoken woman plucking leeches off her skin as she runs through a jungle in Borneo.

But that's part of multisport adventure racing for Louise Cooper, 50, of West Hills. She's run more than 60 marathons, finished the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon seven times, done the Raid Gauloises four times and completed eight Eco-Challenges.

Expedition-style events like the Raid Gauloises and the Eco-Challenge are weeklong team races in remote areas that can include trail running, mountain biking, kayaking, rappelling and navigation tests.

But bone-weary fatigue and blood-sucking leeches were minorobstacles compared to Cooper's biggest challenge - overcoming breast cancer.

After discovering a lump in her breast in 1998, doctors told Cooper that she had an especially virulent form of cancer that needed to be treated aggressively. Three operations and months of radiation and chemotherapy stopped the cancer.

Cooper credits adventure racing with helping her in her battle with cancer. She assembled a team of doctors, medical technicians and friends who treated and supported her.

``It was another race for me,'' Cooper said about her battle with cancer.

A month after she finished radiation treatment, Cooper ran a marathon. Five months later, she ran the 135-mile Badwater ultramarathon from Death Valley to Mt. Whitney in a little more than 40 hours and was the second woman finisher.

``There's nothing I can't deal with at this stage,'' she said.

Cooper grew up in South Africa in an athletic family. Her father encouraged her brother to compete in sports like rugby and water polo.

``I was the little sister schlepping along,'' said Cooper. ``But I was the one that excelled at sports. I seemed to enjoy it more.''

Cooper moved to the U.S. in 1978. A teacher at Heschel West, a private elementary school in Agoura, she started running competitively and racing in triathlons, including the Ironman. But in 1989, she was banned from competing in triathlons because of her South African citizenship and went back to running.

In 1994, she was watching the Raid Gauloises - one of the original expedition-style team races - on TV and thought, ``Oh, I have to do that.''

Cooper didn't know how to kayak or climb, but that didn't stop her from signing up for an Eco-Challenge adventure race in Utah.

Racing with teammates drawn from a group who ran together at Birmingham High School in Van Nuys, Cooper was soon hooked on adventure racing.

``It was the most exciting time in my life - learning new sports and overcoming some serious apprehensions,'' she said.

Adventure racing is a team sport. The sense of companionship and belonging are an added benefit for Cooper, who lives with the four dogs she's adopted.

Adventure racing has taken Cooper, now a U.S. citizen, to many interesting places, including Patagonia, Nepal, Vietnam, Australia, Fiji and New Zealand.

``Borneo was the most beautiful, although there were areas not made for human visitation,'' she said. ``The competitors provided a smorgasbord for the leeches.''

Cooper spent a week in the hospital after the Borneo Eco-Challenge, recovering from leptospirosis, a sometimes-fatal bacterial infection that half the competitors contracted during the race. She's also come back from a race with a staph infection but dismisses such hazards.

``If you aren't prepared to take these risks, you miss out on all the incredible adventures,'' she said.

WANT MORE ADVENTURE IN YOUR LIFE?

--Information about adventure racing and help in finding teammates is available from Southern California Adventure Racing Buddies at www.scarabs.homestead.com.

--The L.A. Balance Bar Adventure Sprint Race will be held Saturday, Oct. 16, at the Frank G. Bonelli Regional Park. Sprint races include special tests, kayaking, mountain biking and trail running. Teams of three compete in a 10-15 mile mountain bike course, a 5-8 mile trail run, a 1-3 mile kayak segment and up to 10 special tests. Teams generally finish in 2.5 to 6 hours.

--The next L.A. Balance Bar 24-Hour Adventure Race will be Nov. 20-21 in the Santa Monica Mountains. Each 24-hour race includes mountain biking, trekking, kayaking, ropes disciplines and navigation. Elite teams will finish in 13-15 hours, with most teams finishing in 24-36 hours. Visit www.balancebaradventure.com for more information.

--REI sponsors adventure races and clinics. The next adventure sprint clinic will be at the REI in Manhattan Beach on Sept. 14 and on Oct. 21 for 24-hour adventure racing. Call (310) 727-0728 for information about clinics.

CAPTION(S):

2 photos, box

Photo:

(1) After surviving breast cancer, Louise Cooper can handle carrying her mountain bike during an adventure race.

(2) Louise Cooper of West Hills has gone from competing in marathons and triathlons to testing herself in adventure races.

Bill Becher/Special to the Daily News

Box:

WANT MORE ADVENTURE IN YOUR LIFE? (see text)
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 12, 2004
Words:800
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