COVINGTON — On Labor Day, Sept. 3, 2018, Covington Police Officer Matt Cooper was critically wounded in a line-of-duty shooting. Five days after the shooting on Sept. 8, while Cooper remained in the hospital awaiting surgery, thousands wearing every shade of blue gathered for the 35th running of the Covington Police Fuzz Run and a chance to honor and support Cooper. Just over a year later, Cooper will kick off the 2019 Fuzz Run by leading the 1-mile fun run this Saturday at 8 a.m.

While pursuing a shoplifting suspect behind the Walmart store on Industrial Boulevard on Labor Day last year, Cooper was shot in the head, and the bullet lodged in his carotid artery, clotting his blood and saving his life. The shooting suspect was later found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot.

Cooper was initially taken to Grady Memorial Hospital and then transferred to the Shepherd Center for rehabilitation. Since the shooting, the community has rallied to support him and his family through prayer, fundraisers and other events.

One of the greatest shows of support was the Fuzz Run last year, with a record-setting crowd of nearly 4,000 runners, along with spectators, supporters and vendors, joined by hundreds of police officers from around the state, all there to “Back the Blue.” The officers’ patrol cars lined the race route in tribute to Cooper.

Proceeds from the race each year go to the Police Who Care Fund, which has benefitted many organizations and individuals over the past 36 years — including Shop With a Cop, the Miracle League, Special Olympics, and more. Last year it included taking care of one of their own, with a portion of the proceeds dedicated to support Cooper and his family.

Cooper, who is continuing to recover at home after being released from the Shepherd Center earlier this year, goes to physical therapy twice a week and has a two-hour workout program at home every day. He has also started once-a-week vision therapy and in May at an awards ceremony honoring him and the first responders who worked together to save his life, Cooper said he is getting stronger every day and doing great.

At the Covington City Council meeting last Monday, Mayor Ronnie Johnston noted that it was the anniversary of Cooper’s shooting.

“One year ago today, the unfortunate situation happened with Matt Cooper,” Johnston said. “Everybody in the city of Covington has watched this young man and the incredible journey that he has put out there for the public to witness, and the strength of this community has pulled around him. He’s a great guy, and he really represents what Covington is all about.”

Johnston led the meeting in a moment of silence in honor of Cooper.

Covington Police Sgt. Alan Martin then updated the council on the race and announced that Cooper would be participating.

“Riding on the coattails of what the mayor said earlier about Officer Cooper, God has been good in so many different ways, and especially in the life of Matt Cooper and the lives of his fellow Covington Police officers,” said Martin. “Matt is planning on running the race this year, I believe the 1-mile Fun Run. We’re clearly excited to have him there this year.

“We’re also excited because we’ve moved. We’re not going to start at the Police Department this year; we’re going to be at Legion Field. The start-finish line will actually be on Newton Drive. There will be lots of vendors and food trucks.

“Not only is it a race, but it is an event and shows off our community. We can’t thank you enough for all your support.”

The Fuzz Run is the largest participatory event in Covington each year, drawing more than 3,000 runners, walkers and spectators. The race has won the “Best Race in Georgia” award four years, which was voted on by runners participating in the “Run and See Georgia Grand Prix Series.”

This year the race moves to Legion Field. Packet pickup begins at the EXPO at Legion Field located at 3173 Mill St. in Covington on Friday, Sept. 13, 2019 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Vendors will have displays and merchandise.

Packet pickup and race day registration at Legion Field will begin at 6 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 14.

Race times are:

♦ 1 Mile Fun Run — 8 a.m.

♦ Kid’s Dash Mary Beth’s Redbird Run (ages 5 and under) — 8:15 a.m.

♦ 5K Fuzz Run — 8:30 a.m.

To register for the race, go to https://bit.ly/2maolrK

Senior Reporter

Born and raised in Decatur, Ga. Graduated from Shorter College in Rome, Ga. in 1979 with B.A. in Communications. Worked in community newspapers for 26 years. Started at Rockdale Citizen/Newton Citizen in January 2016.