"I wish I could have raised more, but this experience taught me how much each donation—regardless of how big or small—makes a difference."
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines hero as one who is admired for his or her achievements and noble qualities. Fortunately, the field of conservation inspires heroes—everyday people doing extraordinary things. Susan Ford is one of those people.
A veterinarian in Cookeville, Tennessee, Susan recently raised $1,012 for Gulf restoration work through her participation in Ironman Florida, a 2.4-mile swimming, 112-mile biking and 26.2 mile running competition held in Panama City along the Gulf of Mexico.
This competition was her 10th Ironman race—and the 10th time she completed a competitive swim in Gulf waters.
“I’ve been out in flat, calm waters and in currents with breakers. I’ve swum with fish, jellyfish, stingrays and other animals. I’ve been alone, and I’ve been with 2,000-3,000 other swimmers,” Susan said. “I’ve done countless practice swims there and have come to love the Gulf.”
Long before she embarked on her Ironman races and the demanding training schedule necessary to prepare for the competitions, Susan was an avid birder. On bird-watching trips to places like Sanibel Island and the Everglades in Florida, South Padre Island and Galveston in Texas, and Dauphin Island, Alabama, she became enamored with the Gulf and the myriad of life its waters and wetlands support.
As a birder, Susan understood what decades of degradation had cost the Gulf of Mexico and the people who live there. Once the Deepwater Horizon oil spill occurred in April 2010, a sense of renewed urgency to save this endangered place took hold.
“I was horrified. This wasn’t some vague thing that happened in the news. This happened to a place I already knew and cared about,” she said.
Recognizing what she considers to be her part in this environmental disaster – using petroleum every time she went on a bird-watching expedition or traveled to a race, Susan said she “felt like I was required to do something to respond to help the area I love.”
Every Donation Counts
Already planning to compete in the November 2010 Ironman Florida race, Susan took part in the Janus Charity Challenge – a program that contributes matching funds based on how much the athlete raises for the non-profit organization of their choice.
With an array of charitable organizations to choose from, Susan followed the recommendations of friends in the conservation field and chose to champion The Nature Conservancy because it met all of her parameters:
- 35 -year history of working in the Gulf of Mexico
- long-term vision for restoration
- working across state borders
- focusing on the whole ecosystems, not just a single plant, animal or habitat
- a trusted reputation
“I wish I could have raised more, but this experience taught me how much each donation—regardless of how big or small—makes a difference,” Susan said. With plans to compete in two races this year in the Gulf, Susan remains committed to raising public awareness about the need for restoration. “We need people to understand the importance of these waters and wetlands as both an environmental jewel and as critical to the function of the region and the livelihoods of the people who live there,” she said.