Some years ago at an author’s reception in Dallas, Dr. Ken Cooper and his wife, Millie, introduced themselves to best-selling novelist John Grisham.
“When he found out who I was, he said, ‘I hate you! I hate you! I had to run so much in school because of you!’” Dr. Cooper recalled with a laugh.
Of course, it was all in fun, and the novelist added that he was still a runner, Dr. Cooper said. “That’s what makes it all worth it.”
Like Grisham, Dr. Cooper has impacted the lives of countless people all over the world through his great contribution to the field of preventive medicine and the great importance of staying fit until the end—“squaring off the curve,” as he likes to say.
Dr. Cooper, a faithful follower of Christ and longtime Prestonwood Baptist Church member, will be honored as recipient of the 10th annual Zig Ziglar Servant Leadership Award on Sunday, April 22, at 6:00 p.m. at Embassy Suites Frisco.
Dr. Kenneth Cooper, Recipient of 10th Annual Zig Ziglar Servant Leadership Award
“To receive this award is one of the highest honors I’ve ever received,” Dr. Cooper said during Worship Services recently. “Zig was a special friend and a patient of mine. He was always one of my idols.”
Sponsored by Prestonwood Christian Academy, Prestonwood Foundation and Prestonwood Baptist Church, the annual banquet benefits Sponsor-A-Child—the tuition assistance program at PCA that Dr. Cooper says is near and dear to his heart.
“Do you realize how fortunate we are to have freedom of religion and have a school that teaches religion?” he asked. “It’s where my two grandchildren go, and I’m very proud of that.
“So I encourage you to come (to the banquet) to support Prestonwood Christian Academy, because this event raises scholarships for those children who can’t afford to go to school here.”
The scholarship fund is an extraordinary gift, Dr. Cooper said, and through it, young lives are changed forever.
And Dr. Cooper has lived his life serving in the medical profession and seeking to change lives forever by encouraging people to take care of the bodies God has blessed them with.
He published his first book, Aerobics, in 1968, based on his belief that the foundation of a healthy life is built on exercise and proper diet. He used a 12-minute run to measure a person’s physical condition. And Dr. Cooper has carried his message throughout the world.
“My goal originally was to combat the Number 1 cause of death in America—that’s deaths from cardiovascular disease—and to increase longevity,” he said.
Few people had heard of him then. But Aerobics and the 12-minute run attracted plenty of attention, and established Dr. Cooper as a leading voice in physical fitness and its impact on overall health.
In 1970, the Brazilian national soccer team asked Dr. Cooper to work with its athletes as they prepared for the World Cup, with aerobics the centerpiece of the team’s training program. The Brazilians won the cup, and Dr. Cooper became so identified with aerobic workouts that many Brazilians still call jogging “Coopering.”
Now 87, Dr. Cooper remains hard at work, more convinced than ever that diet and exercise are the prescription for a healthy life.
After a running career that stretched more than 38,000 miles, Dr. Cooper had to modify his fitness regime a few years ago when he broke a leg in a skiing accident. So instead of running, he walks, trains with weights, and focuses on aerobic conditioning. He prescribes the same regimen to anyone who finds running difficult because of age or affliction.
But other than that concession, he never seems to stop moving. There is so much on his plate, so much to do.
“My son is meeting with officials in Dubai today,” he said in a recent conversation, “and they have all that oil revenue and now they want to try to develop medical tourism there. They want 200,000 people a year to come through.
“And we have a center opening up in Nanjing, China. The Chinese want to improve the health of their 1.3 billion people. There’s an explosion of obesity there.”
Unfortunately, the same is true in the U.S.
“We spend twice as much on healthcare as any other country,” Dr. Cooper said, “and we’re 43rd in longevity. Seventy-six percent of the diseases we have are a result of lifestyle.”
The solution, Dr. Cooper said, is following what he calls “8 Healthy Steps”: Maintaining a healthy weight; making healthy food choices most of the time; exercising most days of the week; taking the right supplements to meet your needs; avoiding tobacco; controlling alcohol use; managing stress; and getting a regular, comprehensive physical exam.
He still rises early and works hard, overseeing the various health and business components that bear the Cooper name, always preaching the merits of diet and exercise.
“I started here 48 years ago; I put the blinders on and fought the resistance and now we’re worldwide,” he said. “And the reason I’ve been successful is God. I give Him all the credit.”
Dr. Larry Taylor, Head of School at PCA, said Dr. Cooper truly personifies the qualities the Zig Ziglar Servant Leadership Award represents.
“Because he’s such a good doctor, he has opened doors in the secular world, and in doing so, he’s been able to serve as an ambassador for Christ,” Dr. Taylor said. “He provides credibility for the kingdom. He reaches parts of the world that most pastors will never reach.
“And the core of his calling is to serve parents and kids and families.”
That, Dr. Taylor said, is servant leadership.
And like all of the past honorees, Dr. Cooper is a strong advocate for Sponsor-A-Child, the reason for the banquet.
The award was an idea that came together when Zig was still alive, Dr. Taylor said.
“His granddaughter, Alexandria, went all through school at PCA, and Zig was always a part of the school,” he said. “He would speak at PCA events; he’d speak to the kids at chapel; he’d help in any way he could.
“At one point, we were in a capital campaign and Zig had agreed to write a letter to the grandparents to say how important this campaign was,” Dr. Taylor said. “He was always willing to help.
“And later, with Pastor Jack Graham’s permission, Ron Kelley (Director of Prestonwood Foundation) and I went to Tom Ziglar (Zig’s son) and said we’d love to do a Zig Ziglar Servant Leadership banquet.
“Zig was a model servant leader and we wanted to make this one of our highest honors.”
But when they presented the idea to Zig, Dr. Taylor recalled, the response was not what they expected.
“He started crying,” Dr. Taylor said. “As humble as ever, he said, ‘Guys, I’m so far from being the model servant leader.’
“But that only reinforced that he was what a servant leader should be.”
The same is true of Dr. Cooper.
A Few Words from Past Recipients …
As we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Zig Ziglar Servant Leadership Award, we look to the words of past recipients of the award for its significance and the legacy of the man for whom the award is named.
“I have no doubt it’s already been said, but well done, good and faithful servant, Zig Ziglar. To give an award named after one of America’s most remarkable motivators and communicators, I don’t stand here to accept something. I stand here to give something.”
—Gov. Mike Huckabee, 2009 Recipient
Former Governor of Arkansas; Former Presidential Candidate
“Zig Ziglar is one of my all-time heroes of my life. Today as I share this time with him, I know what we hold most in common is that Jesus is life.”
—The late Mike Fechner, 2010 Recipient
Founder of H.I.S. BridgeBuilders; Former Minister of Spiritual Development at Prestonwood
“The characteristics that Zig lifts up are the foundational stones for meaningful success, rooted in faith, honesty, character, integrity, love and loyalty. That’s what the world needs now.”
—Judge Ken Starr, 2011 Recipient
Former U.S. Circuit Judge and U.S. Solicitor General; Former President and Chancellor of Baylor University
“If Christian education goes, there is no hope for our country. These sponsorships (Sponsor-A-Child) are fantastic, giving someone an education, giving them a shot at something they can’t afford.”
—Franklin Graham, 2012 Recipient
President and CEO of Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association
“I am so thankful that I committed my life to Christ; I am in full-time Christian service, as all believers are…. My wife and I are committed to Christian education; it is very important. When we make investments in something like PCA, it is our opportunity to ‘pay it forward.’”
—Dan T. Cathy, 2013 Recipient
President and CEO of Chick-fil-A
“I know it brings me great joy to see the impact of Prestonwood Christian Academy as we know PCA teachers instill much more than math and reading into our students. They guide them to follow Christ and to seek Christ in every area of their life, in every subject matter, every single day.”
—Sondra Saunders, 2014 Recipient
Associate Pastor, Prestonwood
“I found out that every single one of us, we’re called by God. Whatever your hands find to do, do the very best you can unto the Lord.”
—David Green, 2015 Recipient
Founder of Hobby Lobby; Philanthropist; Founder of the Museum of the Bible
“We have lost a giant of the faith who was able to connect kingdom principles with professional life in a way that brought excellence, integrity and productivity to the workplace in the name of Jesus Christ.”
—Dr. Tony Evans, 2016 Recipient
Pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship, upon the passing of Zig Ziglar
“It was such a blessing to be the ‘messenger’ for the 10 years that Touched by an Angel ran. … But there are so many people who don’t even know the story [of Jesus]. So we try to open people’s hearts, and when you open hearts, so many amazing things happen. We repeatedly tell the story of Jesus to a hurting world.”
—Roma Downey & Mark Burnett, 2017 Recipients
Actor known for her role in Touched by an Angel, honored with husband, Mark Burnett, Hollywood Producer