This one's for you, mom

Jennifer Cowper takes on Ironman in ALS fight

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This one's for you mom

COEUR d'ALENE - Jennifer Cowper won't be running when she crosses the finish line of Ironman Coeur d'Alene on Sunday.

She won't be walking, either.

The Coeur d'Alene woman plans to roll across the finish - for her mom.

"She's pretty unbelievable, best attitude in the world," Cowper said. "Sings her way through the day."

Annie Dorris keeps singing, smiling and cheering for her daughter, despite her battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

Since being diagnosed with ALS last year, Dorris has lost the use of her legs and is confined to a wheelchair. The 66-year-old's arms are growing weaker, and she needs help with eating and caring for herself, such as brushing her hair.

"Having been a hair dresser for 35 years, that's a tough one for me," she said.

ALS is a disease of the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement. The body slowly, but surely, shuts down. Dorris explains it this way:

"Nerves and muscles leave the building. They don't work anymore, so I'm trying to keep them going as long as possible," she said.

Her daughter is leading the family as it rallies around her, offering support, love and encouragement.

When Jennifer Cowper lines up for Sunday's race, she'll be raising awareness of ALS, and money, too, to find a cure. It helps the 41-year-old deal with watching her mom battle a deadly disease.

"It's a good focus, like you have to do something, so let's do something for good," she said.

On Sunday, the mother of three will be wearing number 179, which belonged to Jon Blais.

Blais was 34 when he was diagnosed with ALS on May 2, 2005. In October 2005, just five months after his diagnosis, he became the first ALS patient to participate in and complete the Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. He "log-rolled" across the finish.

Blais later founded the Blazeman Organization, which is dedicated to promoting awareness of, and fundraising for, those battling ALS.

"Jon did more in the last three years of his life than some of us could dream of doing in a lifetime," according to an Ironman press release. "Although Blais lost his battle with ALS in May 2007, his memory and the outstanding contributions he made to the sport continue."

Some triathletes continue to honor Blais by doing the "Blazeman-Roll" at the finish.

Count Cowper among them.

"That's my plan," she said.

The co-owner of Pinnacle Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine will be competing in her first Ironman, inspired after seeing a video on Blais and also knowing her mom faced ALS.

"At that moment I thought, 'Here's my purpose for next year,'" she said. "Let's try to raise awareness and find a cure."

She's feeling rested and ready for race day, fueled by training around 15 hours a week under the guidance of coach Derek Garcia.

But the slim, 5-foot-7 blonde isn't racing the clock. She'll be thinking of her mom, and family and friends supporting her, as she takes on the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and 26.2-mile run.

"It's pretty remarkable," she said.

Cowper, who played soccer in college and is an avid runner, said exercise has always been her avenue for dealing with life's stresses.

She loves having her children train with her, too, such as sharing a lane at the pool or going for a bike ride.

"I like to model for kids, fighting for a cause and having purpose outside of yourself," she said.

Her children will be on board Sunday. Dylan, 10, Brayden, 8, and Lauren, 6, will be wearing jerseys with the words, "War on ALS. We love you gram."

Annie Dorris vows to watch her daughter finish.

"I would normally think she's a crazy person for doing this race. But her heart is so in it for the right reasons. She's amazing. She's fully dedicated to wiping out this horrible illness. She has worked so hard, I know she'll do it."

Dorris, who spent time in her daughter's home Monday, has good days and bad. Faith and family make a huge difference.

"It's awesome," she said. "It's helped this journey to be much less painful."

Dorris showed symptoms of ALS for a year and a half before being diagnosed May 25, 2011. She naps often, rests, takes supplements, prescriptions, and stretches.

"There's not a lot of pain yet for me with this ALS. The pain, I guess, comes later," she said. "Hopefully never. That would be wonderful."

She loves and admires her daughter, and says she's her biggest fan.

"She's an Ironman in spirit, mind and body," Dorris said.

Cowper, sitting next to her mom, grins with pride. The two glance at each other, then share a hug.

"She's so inspiring," Cowper said. "Where do you think I get it?"

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