My Other Self: Johnny Cougar

I recently had the opportunity to attend my alma mater’s Homecoming. It was great to go back to the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, IN, where I spent 4 wonderful years. I grew spiritually and intellectually during that time. There is one person who continues to come up often as I reflect on my time at Saint Francis. It is the one person who is often brought up as I visit with friends from campus. That person was my other self.

Saint Francis day at the Fort Wayne Zoo. I’m with my friend Maria Constantine here. I think it was in 2005 or so.

Before I even enrolled at the university, I decided to attend an early summer welcome event on campus.  As I walked around the various student organization booths at the event, I saw one that included information about the cheer and dance squad at USF. I slowly walked up to the booth.  When the coach came by, I jokingly asked her about the USF mascot. I asked, “So, do you have someone to be the mascot?” I left that conversation committed to being the next “Johnny Cougar”.

I never thought I would dress up as a giant cougar nearly every Saturday in Fall during college, but I did and it was a lot of fun. As I cheered on the USF Cougars from the sidelines of football and basketball games, I realized I could be goofy, funny and run around entertaining people. It wasn’t like me at all, but I did enjoy it.

At some point I realized that every time I put on this giant, silly, ridiculous looking costume, people would smile. Even if you are having a bad day, it’s hard not to smile at a giant cougar walking down the hall. That’s when I realized that I could do even more with this gig. I decided to contact Lutheran Children’s Hospital in Fort Wayne to ask if I could I come and visit children in the hospital. Surprisingly they agreed. During my time as “Johnny Cougar” nearly every month I would carry this giant body bag from my car through the doors of Lutheran Children’s Hospital to dress up as the cougar.

Sister Marilyn snapped this picture of me with my other self from college during the 2015 Homecoming game.

There’s nothing better than a child’s smile and laughter, especially those who are sick and in the hospital. Often the parents would even get a kick out of it. As I would walk down the halls of the hospital, the doctors and nurses would all smile, laugh and slap my hand. In that moment, it didn’t matter what sickness lurked around the corner in the next room or what challenges they faced. I was able to bring some joy and a smile with something as simple as dressing up as a cougar.

It reminded me of the Scripture reading from Romans 12 in the Message version, “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.” May I add “Even take your dressing up as a mascot – and place it before God as an offering.”

God can take the smallest offering we give to God and bring great things out of it. I had the opportunity to be “Johnny Cougar” for 4 years, or as I often told the football players, “I am the Cougar. There would be no Saint Francis Cougars without me.” It was a fun and simple thing to do, but it became an offering to God. I was able to bring some joy to others when I made my mascot gig an offering before God.


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