Emily Cook aiming to remain atop her sport
November 11, 2011
As each team member was introduced, Emily Cook smiled wide, as she so typically does, and applauded her teammates.
On Tuesday afternoon at Deer Valley Resort’s Silver Lake Lodge, Cook sat at the press table as a member of the 2012 U.S. Freestyle Ski Team, clapping as much of the attention went to a youthful and promising freestyle squad.
Cook is in her 14th season as an aerials specialist on the freestyle ski team. This year, the 32-year-old must continue to do what she has always done-keep the gas pedal to the floor.
"The younger generation definitely keeps us young and excited and fresh," she said. "If I walk into the gym, and I’m feeling a little tired, they’re going to cheer me up in a second."
"She’s a true leader of our team," said Todd Schirman, freestyle director of the U.S. Ski Team, who has known Cook since she was 16. "She’s been with the program longer than anybody out there. She’s so important to these younger athletes out here, and the older athletes, as well.
"She’s what they call the mother hen of the team."
A two-time Olympian, five-time U.S. National Champion and five-time World Cup medalist, Cook must continue to fend off the younger, agile wolves, including her on-the-road roommate Ashley Caldwell, now a World Cup winner and the 2010 FIS Rookie of the Year.
Mentoring younger athletes has put Cook in an interesting position considering her competitive drive to remain atop her sport.
In a competition in Lake Placid, N.Y., last season, Cook sat No. 3 on the podium as Caldwell was the final competitor.
Caldwell ended up winning and, as the then 17-year-old celebrated with her friend and guru, the reality hit Cook like a ton of bricks. She was suddenly in fourth place and off the podium.
"You’re not knocking me off the podium next time," Cook said she told Caldwell following that event.
"I think she teaches me as much as I teach her," Cook added. "But it’s definitely a give-and-take type of thing. She teaches me how to stay young. She’s so psyched to get to every event. She keeps me on my toes."
"There’s never a moment I take for granted my position on the team. The second you stop wanting to be the best in the world is the second you consider if you actually want to continue doing the sport."
Therein lies the competitive drive of one of freestyle skiing’s most versatile and seasoned veterans.
"I’m training with the intention of winning a gold medal in Sochi," she said. "With that being said, if the fire isn’t there, it’s something I won’t be doing anymore If I’m getting out of it what I’m putting in, then I’m satisfied. Every day I’m going to the gym or the hill and doing everything I can."
As Cook points out, this season features no World Championships and no Olympic Winter Games, so her objective is to win the Grand Prix; to consistently be the best freestyle skier on the World Cup circuit.
"She is women’s aerials at this point for the United States," Schirman said. "She gets to remind our younger athletes that there’s a whole other level to reach, and she helps them get there."
While Cook and her teammates are ready to tackle the new season head on, they are still mourning the loss of legend Jeret "Speedy" Peterson, a former Olympian who ended his own life on July 25.
"Speedy wasn’t just a teammate to us. He was a really close friend and someone who was a leader for us," she said. "His absence is definitely felt throughout the team."
The link between Cook and Peterson was unique, she said.
"I’ve never had the ability to tell my story without telling his before," she said. "Every time I spoke to a school or a corporate group, his story was mine.
"He was the person that taught me how to be a good teammate, that taught me how to watch out for other people. When I broke my feet in 2002, he was the one who took my (Olympic) spot. But not only was he the one who took my spot, he supported me through the next three years of rehab and getting back to the Olympic Games He’s the person who held my hand when running into the Opening Ceremony in Torino (Italy)."
Cook said The Speedy Foundation has been working relentlessly to raise money and awareness for mental illnesses. She said Peterson’s home state of Idaho had a suicide prevention hotline until 2007 and the foundation is working to get it going again.
According to http://www.thespeedyfoundation.org , "Idaho had a suicide prevention hotline that utilized local volunteer operators, with uncovered time rolling over to the National Suicide Lifeline. Since the closure of the Idaho hotline, the lifeline has agreed, as a professional courtesy and at no cost to Idaho, to accept Idaho calls through the national lifeline network. Currently, Idaho’s lifeline operators are located out of state and are unable to make referrals to important Idaho services."
When asked if this upcoming season will be different for her, Cook’s emotions bubbled to the surface.
"Everything’s different," she said, teary-eyed. "This is different. This is a conversation I’m going to continue to have, and it’s one I want to have.
"He’s represented us for years, and now I want to be out there representing him."