I love when people have a big, outrageous idea of something they want to someday do and then somehow make it happen! There has been a lot of buzz about a recent competitor with local ties who made an international splash when he won the recent Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake Contest in Gloucester, England. Participants careen down a treacherous 200-yard long embankment chasing a wheel of Double Gloucester cheese!
I can’t think of a more zany, extreme and death defying running race out there, and am in awe of recent WWU graduate and track team decathlete Cooper Cummings who took on this challenge and came out on top! Like a lot of people, his feat captured my imagination and fascination and I couldn’t wait to have him answer some of my questions! – Genevie
A lot of people got acquainted with this competition by seeing it on Netflix’s “We are the Champions” series. How did you first find out about it?
When I was in middle school I saw the race on YouTube and I thought it looked so fun, all those people just hurdling down the hill. There was such beauty in the chaos.
Were you a daredevil growing up?
Yes, definitely. I did a lot of parkour and liked to jump off bridges with friends.
The race so inspired me in middle school that after seeing YouTube videos of it, me and my friends would go to park that had a really steep grassy hill, take a football and roll it down the hill and try to see who could get it first. We mostly ended up just tackling each other.
Do you think growing up as a multi-sport athlete, competing in the decathlon in college, and possessing a great combination of agility, speed and strength made you well suited to take on this event?
I think so. You’ve got to be very confident in yourself. And I think I’m built for the event, small & stocky, nimble on my feet and with a good sense of balance.
We played your race on our big screen in the store and it seems like you were able to maintain excellent form with your ability to move super quick, stay on your feet mixed with baseball slides, being able to get back on your feet and summersaulting at the end. You looked to come out relatively unscathed compared to a lot of people who seemed to painfully bounce awkwardly down the embankment. What was your strategy?
I went to look at the hill the day before the race and it looked a lot scarier in person than it looked in the videos. While there, I happened to meet the perennial champion of the race (Chris Anderson, who had won it 15 years!) who had announced that he was retiring from competing in the race. He was there helping set up for the next day. I told him I wanted to win the race and asked if he had any advice. He said, “Just run fast”.
My strategy was to stay upright as long as I could, run as fast as I could without falling and if I started to lose my balance, to baseball slide and then pull myself back up again. At the very end, I had a lot of speed going and tumbled, but I had so much adrenaline going that I didn’t feel it much.
When you went to visit the course was it intimidating as you climbed up it?
That was the scary part! In the video it looks relatively smooth, but besides being so steep,there were divots, holes, exposed rocks and sticker bushes.
As I just mentioned, you beat the perennial winner Chris Anderson, who had won 15 years! Was he a local resident?
Yes, Chris was from Brockworth Village near Gloucester. Chris wasn’t expected to compete this year as he had announced his retirement from the event. On the day of the event though, they like to have a local person represented and since no one volunteered, I could suddenly see Chris walking up the hill with people excitedly murmuring and pointing at him. He lined up right next to me. He’s basically the Tom Brady of Cheese Rolling so that really got my adrenaline going.
Did you have any pre-race jitters the night before?
I maybe slept an hour the night before the race. I had talked game so much with my friends and family, telling them I was going to win, but then I thought, ‘I don’t even know if I am going to survive this!’
How long did you have to wait at the top of the hill before you got to race?
There were two hours of waiting and looking down the mountain and that makes you rethink your decision, but there were people from all over the world to visit with. Once I was on the line and visualized the route I was going to take, I was mentally locked in.
Was there a starter’s gun or anything?
They say, “One to be ready, Two to be steady, Three for the cheese” and then you are supposed to go on “Four.”
From watching the video, it looks like you executed your plan very well! Was there a finish line and what happened when you crossed it?
There was a white painted line at the bottom of the hill and just before I crossed it, I was going so fast I lost control and tumbled. That was probably a good thing though because there was a line of rugby players that stood just beyond the finish and they were supposed to act as catchers, slowing people down, but mostly they seemed to practice their tackling. If you were on your feet at the end, you were going to get hit.
How did you feel about your win? Were you in shock or relieved? Was it surreal?
I was overwhelmed with joy. I think it was the coolest thing I had ever done! I had basically beaten the Tom Brady of cheese rolling! 🙂
Were you swarmed by people after the race?
Yes, there were local reporters and BBC reporters and people who wanted to get a picture with me, to kiss me on the check, who wanted me to kiss their babies….(Laughs)
Where did you go after the race to celebrate?
Everyone gathered at the local pub, of course. 🙂
Did you get to keep the seven pound wheel of cheese and where is it now?
The cheese is at home in the refrigerator. I might need to get some crackers and wine and have a little tasting party with some friends and family. It’s a Double Gloucester cheese that they say is a tangy cheddar.
Has doing such a daring, big-dreamin’ event like this got you thinking of anything you want to try next?
I kind of want to go down my bucket list now. Maybe run with the bulls, do a marathon, sky dive, maybe compete in American Ninja Warrior or Survivor….
Cooper, thanks for reliving this amazing experience with us and giving us such great insight! Wow, wow, wow!