Nature Provides a Path to Recovery
Tom Cook has loved walking outdoors since childhood. He hiked the Appalachian Trail in college, walked his children to preschool while a stay-at-home dad, and took a six-week, 640-mile trek across Michigan’s Upper Peninsula that raised nearly $10,000 for The Nature Conservancy in 2006. “Nature is that real opportunity to connect with something larger than myself,” he says.
It was during long walks last year that Tom’s wife Anna noticed he was tiring quickly and stumbling frequently. He sought medical advice and received a life-changing diagnosis: a large growth in his brain that would require surgery.
Tom found solace in nature. “To me nature is a spiritual resource as much as it’s a natural one,” he says. “Being outdoors is certainly my form of prayer.” Tom started a CaringBridge website to share updates on his health, and on it asked everyone to describe their favorite walks outdoors. “There were two weeks between diagnosis and surgery, and it was a really anxious time. Talking about hikes in nature was both comforting and a source of strength.”
On the day of Tom’s surgery, friends, family members and even strangers hiked in his honor. “When you're going through the prep before surgery, what are you going to think about?” he asks. “Well, I thought about walking. I thought about all those people getting together and walking all around the country that day.”
The surgery was a success—“spectacular,” as the neurosurgeon described it. Tom’s first steps back in nature were small ones: a visit to a neighborhood park, a quarter-mile trip to the mailbox. But soon he was ready for “a real comeback hike” along the ocean in Hawaii. “You’ve got steep cliffs on one side and whales spouting in the Pacific on the other, and it was like, ‘Okay, this is what makes me glad to be alive.’”
Tom’s health scare solidified his love of nature and reaffirmed his commitment to the organization he’s passionately supported since his first gift in 1983. “I became a TNC member because it was the right thing to do,” he says. “I’m now even more convinced it was the right decision. If we're going to leave a legacy for our next generation, we need to ensure the whole planetary system will support the places we love.”
Tom Cook is the executive director of the Cook Family Foundation, which was founded by his grandparents and has supported TNC’s work to protect the Great Lakes. Tom is a Trustee, Last Great Places Society member and the immediate past chair of TNC's Trustee Council. He became a member of The Legacy Club by naming TNC as a beneficiary of his retirement savings. He and his wife, Anna Owens, live in Tom’s hometown of Owosso, Michigan, where they raised their children, Abbie and Gus. Follow Tom on Twitter at @Tom4TNC or visit his CaringBridge site at username ThomasBCook.
You can take care of nature and your heirs by naming The Nature Conservancy as a beneficiary of your IRA, 401(k) or other qualified retirement plan. This flexible giving option is quick and easy: you simply sign a paper or online form to designate TNC as a full, partial or contingent beneficiary. Your gift will help protect nature for future generations and may allow your heirs to avoid income taxes. After you make your beneficiary designation, please let us know! We’d love the chance to thank you and welcome you into our Legacy Club if you aren’t already a member.