News: ‘Age just a number’: Oldest combatant reflects on competitive spirit
Story by Sgt. William Begley
FORT HOOD, Texas - As he walks onto the mat before his match in the 2013 Fort Hood Combatives Tournament, Sgt. Maj. Bradley Cope begins the pre-fight dance that tells his body and mind to prepare to do battle. He lightly bounces up and down on his feet and shakes his arms out signaling to his muscles that it’s time to go to work.
It’s a dance that he has been doing for a long time.
Cope is the Provost Sergeant for Operations Company, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division, and has participated in competitive sports since he was 10. The 49-year-old from Rapid City, S.D., grew up playing football, baseball, and wrestling.
The 25-year Army veteran competes in combatives to satisfy his desire to compete, his desire to constantly better himself, and to continue to keep his body fit despite competing against other fighters who are usually half his age.
Some might think Cope is crazy to compete at his age, but he has a fire to compete and he doesn’t think he’s old.
“Age is just a number,” said Cope. “At first I questioned myself and wondered if I should compete. A couple of years ago I sat on the bench and watched the tournament and really wished that I had competed. I don’t ever want to say that again. If I’m going to compete, I’m going to compete. I’m not going to sit on the bench and say ‘I should have’.”
“To get better you have to fight the best and I’m glad I’m here at Fort Hood to experience the best. The coaches at the fight house are just awesome. They pushed me to compete. I’m glad they did, I enjoy it,” added Cope.
Despite his competitive nature, Cope is not above sharing the wisdom he has garnered over the years.
Pvt. David Duke, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cav. Div., sparred with the sergeant major in the weeks leading up to the combatives tournament. In a twist of fate, Duke was Copes second opponent. Duke is 27 years younger than Cope.
“We’ve been rolling at least two to three times a week for the past month now. He’s a little bit older but he’s still got it,” said the 22-year-old native of Jacksonville, Fla. “He’s got a love for competition and he taught me a bunch of moves. I actually used some of the moves he taught me to win today.”
Jarrod Clontz, Fort Hood combatives instructor at Kieschnick Physical Fitness Center, was the instructor that encouraged Cope to compete. He noticed something different about the sergeant major that made him think he could win. Clontz saw a reflection of himself when he met Cope.
“I’m kind of an old guy and I still compete actively, so I can see a lot myself in Sgt. Maj. Cope. We are like kindred spirits,” said the San Bernardino, Calif., native. “There’s still plenty of fight left in that guy. That’s what allows him to go out and compete against these young guys. He has a never say die attitude.”
Clontz added that he understands the drive it takes to fight at Copes age. He also understands more preparation is necessary for someone who is older to be able to compete against the younger, stronger fighters.
“The older you get, the harder you have to work to compete at this level with these guys,” said Clontz. “The younger guys might train two to three days a week, but guys our age have to train five to six just to keep up. We also have to give ourselves more rest because it takes longer to heal. It takes a lot of dedication and work for us older guys to win.”
Cope finished the tournament with two wins and two losses which eliminated him from contention, but don’t count him out from competing in next years tournament.
“I’m not ready to ride off into the sunset yet, but I’m aware of which way the horse is facing,” said Cope. “I love being around the folks in the Army and I’m going to miss it, but I’m not done yet.”
Although he didn’t win the tournament, he has won the respect of his competitors and instructors for getting out there and doing what few people his age and rank would do.
“You could tell he had a deep fire within. He never quits. I took a liking to him right away.” said Clontz. “It’s great to see leadership out there leading the way like he does. Not everyone does that. There are not a lot of guys at his rank that would get on the mat and lead the way by example.”