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“I made friends, I was surprised by generosity, and I got the peace I so desperately needed in the wake of the violence.”
—Susan Ford, Ironman Triathlete

In September of this year, we announced that Susan Ford of Cookeville, TN, would be participating in the Ironman Florida Triathlon. And on November 1st, she did! While Susan has a passion for triathlon racing for its own sake—for the special physical and mental challenges it poses—this year she raced for something bigger than herself. Susan registered her participation with the Janus Charity Challenge and pledged to raise funds in support of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA)-Thomas Jefferson District Knoxville Relief Fund.

Susan Ford is a former member of the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church (TVUUC), where a gunman opened fire on July 27, 2008 killing two and wounding others. When she heard the terrible news, Susan yearned to help. And by taking on the Janus Challenge, she found a way to channel her sadness and despair into hope and to actively demonstrate her passion and commitment to the values of Unitarian Universalism.

On the day of the race, Susan’s goal was to break 12 hours, which would have been a personal best for her, and she finished in 11:54:39. With her greater purpose in mind, she completed the swim, bike and run with personal best times in each sport!

Through her fundraising efforts, Susan raised $2660.66, to which the Janus Charity Challenge added $750.00, bringing the total raised to $3410.66 to help those affected by the tragedy in Knoxville. And in the end, Susan says, she got so much more personally out of the experience than she put into it.

But this race certainly wasn’t Susan’s first major act of living her faith in the world. When she and her husband moved to Cookeville, Tennessee years ago, there was no Unitarian Universalist church. Determined to create Unitarian Universalist community where there might otherwise have been none, they started the UU Congregation of Cookeville with one other woman.

The Cookeville congregation is still emerging, but Susan declares that nonetheless the congregation is “stepping out, being visible, and trying to create a beacon to liberals lost in a small, conservative community.” Susan is stepping out too.

“What happened at TVUUC made me even bolder, because I want to stand up for my liberal faith, even if there is risk. When the local paper called about the shooting, I didn't hesitate to talk about gay rights, atheists, pagans, or anything else that might make people uncomfortable. It ended up on the front page, and new people came through our doors the next week.”

We are deeply grateful to Susan Ford for the leadership she has shown and all that she has done, not only to support the Knoxville Unitarian Universalists, but to open the doors of Unitarian Universalism to those who seek it. During this season, let her story inspire us all to give back.

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