The first thing people notice about Joel Drake is his beard. Measuring at about three inches long and six inches wide, its ombre-brown unruliness stands in stark contrast against his shiny, bald head. His six-month-old beard rounds nicely into a bowl beneath his chin and comes complete with a twirled, Captain Hook mustache.
That, combined with his 5 foot – 11 inch football frame, makes Wittenberg’s track and field throwing coach an eye-catcher. You should see him in a kilt for the Renaissance Festival’s Highland Games.
But this 2004 Witt grad is used to people noticing his beard. In fact, some people actually touch it. Especially the seventh graders he teaches social studies to at Tecumseh Middle School in Clark County.
“This is attached to me,” Drake said, tugging his beard with a laugh. “I prefer people ask before they touch it.”
Despite the lack of personal space, Drake hasn’t found many drawbacks to his bushy buddy.
“It’s a forever scarf,” he said. “I don’t have to wear one in the winter. It keeps my face nice and warm.”
The grooming isn’t too bad either; Drake trims his mustache every other week to keep it out of his mouth, uses a leave-in conditioner, beard oil and wax if he’s “going somewhere it’s super windy.”
But it’s not always rainbows and beard oil. Having a “full time bib” at your neck can have some drawbacks. The hardest struggle?
“Keeping it out of my mouth whether I’m eating or sleeping,” the 36-year-old joked as he twirled the ends of his ’stache.
But a couple of beard hairs in his sandwich are nothing to Drake compared to the cause his beard stands for: cystic fibrosis. Drake has been growing his beard ever since he got his first peach fuzz.
“I grew a beard before beards were cool,” he said.
Plus, it’s part of the family.
“Me, my brothers and my dad started growing them for Christmas as soon as we were able,” Drake said, adding that he has “beard envy.”
“My uncle has one down to his chest.”
Family traditions aside, for the past five years Drake’s beard endeavors have been more focused on charity. It all started in 2013 when one of his junior high students was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. Drake offered the student council this: come up with a few designs, let everyone vote on them with donations, and he’ll shave the winning pattern into his beloved beard.
They agreed. So he did.
In the first three years Drake’s beard challenge raised $2,500 dollars for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Drake has had several designs shaved into his facial hair, including a lighting bolt, the Batman symbol and, most hilariously, “friendly mutton chops,” in which just his chin was shaved. This will be the fifth year of Drake’s hairy sacrifice and he doesn’t see any signs of stopping.
Drake shared what his dreams and goals are for his beard.
“I’d like to send it to college,” Drake said. Where? Wittenberg University of course, “to be a thrower.”
Drake hopes to one day see it turn pure white so he can be Santa Claus.
“I would make an awesome Santa,” he said. “I wouldn’t need the padding.”
And what does Mrs. Claus think? Andrea, Drake’s wife, has barely seen him without facial hair since they started dating in 2005.
“When I’m clean shaven, she doesn’t like it,” Drake said. “She doesn’t recognize me.”
In the end, Drake just wants the beard to bring joy and health to others. He wishes for more people to know about cystic fibrosis and the effect it has on so many kids. He encourages anyone who wishes to get involved to send a donation to Tecumseh Middle School in “care of Drake’s beard” or to donate directly to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.