Emily Cook eyes the landing on a jump at the 2013 Freestyle World Cup event at Deer Valley. Photo courtesy of Kirk Paulsen.
Emily Cook eyes the landing on a jump at the 2013 Freestyle World Cup event at Deer Valley. Photo courtesy of Kirk Paulsen.

One thing has remained constant during aerial skier Emily Cook's 34 years on Earth - she loves being upside down.

Since starting her skiing and gymnastics careers in Massachusetts at age four, Cook, who now lives in Park City, has been looking for new and exciting ways to invert herself ever since.

She said it was only a matter of time until she happened upon aerial skiing at the age of 12.

"It was just a natural progression for me, being a gymnast," she said. "Freestyle just made sense to me - I was the kid who wanted to be upside down no matter what. I was always doing cartwheels on the soccer field and doing flips off stuff. Really, to combine gymnastics and skiing, it just made sense."

She quickly realized aerial skiing was the best way to realize her dream of going to the Olympics. The rest, as they say, is history.

"I remember watching the Olympics with my dad while I was growing up," she said. "I don't ever remember not wanting to go to the Olympics. So, around age 12, when I discovered aerial skiing and started doing flips into the pool, that's when I really started to formulate what that [Olympic] goal looked like."

Though Cook loves being upside down, returning to the upright position has given her some problems during her aerial career, especially around the time of the Olympics.

A two-time Olympian hoping for her third Olympic appearance in Sochi, Russia, in February, Cook missed out on the 2002 Salt Lake City Games after suffering a catastrophic injury.

After landing awkwardly on a jump, Cook broke both of her ankles, sending her on her way to a very lengthy recovery process. Cook missed out on the Salt Lake City Olympics and almost wasn't recovered in time for the 2006 Torino Games.

"Coming off that injury, there were so many setbacks on the way," she said. "I never expected it to be a three-year recovery, but that's what it ended up being. I'd think I was almost back and then I'd need another surgery. Experiences like that made that time really challenging for me.

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But, she said, despite the repeated setbacks, she never gave up on accomplishing her Olympic dreams.

"It was honestly never a question for me," she said. "It had been a dream of mine for my whole life to go to the Olympics, and I wasn't going to let an injury get in my way. For me, it was just the process of staying focused on what needed to be done every day. That's what I've focused on for my entire career, which I really think has contributed to the longevity of my career."

Now, Cook hopes she'll get a chance to compete at full strength at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics after nursing another injury during her second Olympic experience in 2010.

"In 2010, I bruised my heel at one of the last events [before the Vancouver Olympics]," she said. "I didn't jump for six weeks going into Vancouver and didn't jump until about two days before the competition."

If she can stay healthy heading into the Sochi Games, Cook, who is currently the second-ranked female aerialist in the world, hopes to improve upon her 19th-place finish in Torino and 11th-place finish in Vancouver.

"For sure my intention this time is going in healthy," she said. "But, if I go into this Olympics with a small injury, I'll know how to deal with it. I'm definitely feeling really prepared going into this Games."

So far, nothing in her career has topped the 2006 Olympics.

"Actually walking into the Opening Ceremonies with my teammates and not watching from a wheelchair, that was definitely the highlight of my career so far," she said.

Emily Cook is trying to enter the Sochi Olympics healthier than she s been for past Olympic Games. Sarah Brunson/USSA
Emily Cook is trying to enter the Sochi Olympics healthier than she s been for past Olympic Games. Sarah Brunson/USSA
"Knowing that my family was watching back home and everyone cheering - that was pretty special."

But, she added, a podium finish in Sochi might just take over that top spot.

"I think about that moment all the time," she said. "To me, it would be the culmination of so many years of work and so many people's support. I can definitely picture standing on the podium and listening to the national anthem and being able to take a deep breath knowing that all the hard work was worth it."

Every week until the start of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, The Park Record will highlight an Olympic hopeful with ties to the Park City area. Check back next week for a story about cross country skier Liz Stephen.