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VETERANS DAY: Veteran’s cross-country cycling spotlights missions

[SLIDESHOW=41471,41472]CLEVELAND, Tenn. (BP) — Army veteran Tom Cawood set out on Aug. 24 to ride his bike from San Diego, Calif., to St. Augustine, Fla. And along the way, he and his wife Pat helped raise awareness for missions and the North American Mission Board.

At age 81, when most of his contemporaries are slowing down, Cawood gives the impression of gaining speed. His life motto is, “Life is like water skiing, if you slow down, you go down.”

Cawood, followed by his wife in a recreational vehicle, first began planning the coast-to-coast journey in April. This is not the Tennessee native’s first adventure or the first time he has faced a formidable challenge. As a young child Cawood fell out of a window and broke his back. While recovering, he contracted tuberculosis in the hospital. Doctors said he would not live past 20. Cawood defeated the odds and went on to serve in the U.S. Army for two years stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas, as an electronic technician for guided missiles.

“We bleed red, white and blue,” Cawood said of his family military heritage. “My wife’s father was in the Navy [for nearly 30 years] and I was in the Army. We have a son serving in Germany.” Cawood added, “We lost our Marine son in 2008 in an auto accident. We have a granddaughter who served in the Navy and a grandson in the Army.”

Cawood became a Christian at age 14 and went on to serve in various ministries. “I have been a Sunday School teacher, a deacon, a department supervisor and, well, just about everything else,” he said. He also worked for a sheriff’s department and was asked to be the chaplain of the reserve officers.

Pat noted, “The God appointments have just been amazing.”

The Cawoods, members of First Baptist Cleveland, Tenn., planned their trip with the goal of raising money and awareness for three organizations that held a special meaning for them: the Livestrong program through the YMCA, Disabled American Veterans and the North American Mission Board.

The couple said they wanted to emphasize missions throughout their trip, placing a specific interest in NAMB’s work and its Send North America emphasis on planting churches in 50 key cities.

“We were talking to our pastor about how we can tie it all together,” Pat said. “Our pastor told us one day, ‘Do you realize that you are going to be riding through three of the Send cities, and if you count Atlanta, that’s four.’

“This all led us into adopting the Send North America strategy,” Pat said. The Cawoods explored NAMB’s website and studied the Send North America strategies, NAMB’s farm system and an overview of the cities they would travel through.

During the Cawoods’ trip, they always stopped to rest on Saturday evenings and would find a place to attend church on Sunday mornings. The couple visited various churches where they often were given time to speak to the congregation about their journey.

“In Baton Rouge we were able to look up some of the specific projects for New Orleans and present them,” Pat said. “We would just direct people to NAMB and tell them to see where they can be involved.”

The Cawoods distributed between 700 and 800 reference cards that shared information about NAMB. “Who knows how far those have traveled,” Pat said.

The Cawoods also picked Livestrong and Disabled American Veterans because of the close ties they’ve had with the organizations through the years.

“We have friends who are disabled American veterans, and so we knew that it was the right path,” Tom said. The Cawoods picked the Livestrong program because of the prevalence and severity of cancer.

“Our son had the same cancer that Lance Armstrong had a few years ago, so we became aware of the program then” Pat noted, “Everybody has someone or knows someone who has gone through the trials of dealing with cancer.”

A year before the trip, Tom was diagnosed with kidney cancer and had one of his kidneys removed. Prior to Tom’s cancer, he was in a severe motorcycle accident at age 74 where he was admitted to an intensive care unit and was on life support for five weeks. “He should not have survived,” Pat said.

The cross-country bicycle trip ended up being far more intense than the Cawoods had planned. There were many days when the temperature was at least 114 degrees. The Cawoods froze wet paper towels and stuck them in Tom’s helmet. “We would start at 3:30 a.m. and ride under the moonlight in order to get miles in before it got too hot,” Pat said.

Despite the heat, miles and exhaustion, Tom remained faithful to the task at hand. “He’s just an amazing guy,” Pat said, “But we serve an even more amazing God.

“While we were out there we thought the end would never come, but here we are,” Tom said. The Cawoods reached the finish line on the beaches of St. Augustine on Oct. 14.

Tom said that during the hardest parts of his ride he would think of the popular song, “One day at a time, sweet Jesus.”

“When we reach out and walk with the Lord and we walk in His strength, then there isn’t anything we can’t do,” he said. “It’s one step, one pedal and one breath at a time.”

Learn how your church can honor military veterans at www.namb.net/chaplaincy.