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How to help

To donate to Lauren Cox’s fundraising trip for the Mountain Area Health Education Center in Asheville, N.C., go to www.razoo.com. To sponsor Cox, mail MAHEC, Attn: Tina Owen, 121 Hendersonville Road, Asheville, N.C., 28803. To see more pictures from Cox’s Asia trip, go to www.razoo.com/story/Lauren-S-Ride.

Lauren Cox’s laid back demeanor belies a drive and determination to wring the most of life and to help out people most in need.

Due to start medical school at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in August, she will just be winding up a more than 2,000-mile bicycle tour of America to raise awareness for the women’s health fund of the Mountain Area Health Education Center in Asheville, N.C.

She interned and volunteered at the center while majoring in molecular cellular biology and Spanish at UNC Asheville.

That bike tour is on the heels of a 2,000-mile, eight-week trek on two wheels through Vietnam, Thailand and Laos.

“I’ve always wanted to go to Asia ... might as well take my bike there, too,” said Cox, who, along with boyfriend Jordan Vance, spent a few days after the Asia trip with family in Charles County, which includes her mother, Mary and stepdad Joe Gemmell, father Gary Cox and sisters Kristen Lagana and Megan McCarthy (her younger sister, Jordan Bradley, lives in Virginia Beach, Va.).

Cox, 25, wasn’t much of a cyclist, but she planned to start riding more seriously a few years ago with a friend Eleanor Dorman.

But Dorman, who had ordered a bunch of bicycling equipment, died in a 2010 accidental fall at Rainbow Falls in Asheville.

After she died, Dorman’s mother gave her equipment to Cox, who exchanged two of Dorman’s smaller bikes (built for the shorter woman) for a touring bike that was more comfortable for Cox, a 5-feet-8-inch rider.

Cox wanted to do a bicycle tour for Habitat for Humanity, but after interning in 2013 with MAHEC — “an amazing group of people,” she said — she decided she would ride to benefit the center.

As a summer intern at MAHEC, Cox worked with the Women’s and Children’s Safety Initiative and its obstetrics and gynecology team.

Travel time

Traveling and experiencing another culture was a draw for Cox, who has lived, studied and worked in Spain, Ecuador and Rwanda.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” Cox said. “I love traveling, and [cycling] is a great way to meet people.”

Her mother, Mary, was worried about her.

“I could live in fear, or I can branch out,” Cox said.

Along with another rider, Cassie Slate, Cox — equipped with two biking outfits, a pair of shoes, a pair of pajamas that doubled as a going out outfit, three pairs of socks, underwear and sports bras — traveled about 90 miles a day from tourist towns to rural areas, stopping at homes along the way to rest.

“We stayed with locals,” she said, adding that the language barrier led her to often making the universal sign for sleep by putting her hands together and laying her head on them.

“You use the language of the heart,” she said. “You can still communicate that way.

“I wish people traveled more,” Cox said. “I met people who are more loving and kind than I would have expected.”

Her mother is impressed with her daughter’s desire to learn more and grow.

“She always finds the good in things, people,” Mary said.

Changing course

Cox said people who knew her when she was a student at Thomas Stone High School might not have expected much from her.

“I was on a self-destructive path,” she said.

She drank, took drugs, got into fights, skipped school and was hardheaded.

When people told her she couldn’t keep up her bad behavior, it would go in one ear and out the other.

“Lauren made many poor choices during her formative years, but I always recognized her tremendous potential,” said Phil Bohne, a counselor at Thomas Stone, whom Cox continues to be in touch with.

She wanted to be a doctor, but during her time studying at the dry campus of Bridgewater College in Virginia, she landed in the office of the school’s dean of students, William D. Miracle, more than once.

Her offenses were the usual for her — being drunk and fighting.

Miracle put her on medical leave from school so she could go to rehab and straighten up. She wasn’t going to get into medical school if she continued the way she was going.

Cox is six years clean and threw herself into realizing her dream to be a doctor.

She transferred to Asheville and was accepted into medical school at Chapel Hill.

She is interested in practicing rural family medicine.

“I am so proud of what Lauren has accomplished in her young life. Once she harnessed her many gifts, she has been an unstoppable force,” Bohne said. “Nothing she does surprises me anymore.”

“I feel like I started over,” Cox said on her about-face. “Everything came clear.”

“She’s just driven,” said Cox’s mother, Mary. “She’s done amazing things. Everything she’s got, she’s worked for and struggled for.”

Cox and Vance are riding from North Carolina to California continuing to raise awareness for MAHEC, but it will not be her last trip. She still wants to travel, still wants to meet new people, experience new cultures, help out along the way.

“There are so many places to go,” Cox said. “There are so many things to do.”

staylor@somdnews.com