Athletes Giving Back: Emily Cook
When discussing how three-time Olympic aerialist Emily Cook gives back to the Park City community, it might be quicker to list the local organizations she isn’t involved with.
From The Speedy Foundation to the Youth Sports Alliance to Kids Play International, Cook is involved with nonprofits at the local, national and global level.
Following her retirement from aerials after the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, Cook now has even more time to dedicate to causes important to her. One of the organizations that means a lot to Cook on a personal level is The Speedy Foundation, started in memory of Jeret "Speedy" Peterson, one of Cook’s teammates who committed suicide following the 2010 Olympics. The Speedy Foundation works to increase awareness of mental illness and suicide prevention.
"I sat on their board for a couple years, probably about two years," she said. "It’s a great organization. I think the biggest thing about them is really thinking about how you just don’t know what’s going on with the person sitting next to you. You can look at someone and they can have the most successful life, the greatest friends and the greatest family, yet they can still be struggling with something.
"Certainly none of us on The Speedy Foundation board are mental health professionals, but we provide a lot of different resources to people who may need some extra support. There’s always a light at the end of the tunnel and there are always resources that can help you get through a hard time."
Though The Speedy Foundation now operates primarily out of Peterson’s hometown of Boise, Cook still helps when she can.
"We’re definitely still active in the community and I help out when they’re doing stuff in Park City," she said. "They did a presentation at Park City High School this past summer. That was a great thing, to bring a bunch of people together to talk about mental health and talk about what resources are out there."
For Cook, supporting a foundation started in memory of one of her close friends was a no-brainer. She said she and Peterson went through a lot together during their aerials careers.
"I met him when he was probably 9 or 10 and I was 12, back in Lake Placid where we did our first camp together," she said. "We both made the [U.S. Aerials] Team and, in 2002, I qualified for the Olympic team, which was obviously the most exciting thing in the world. Two weeks later, I broke both my feet. He took my place at that Olympic Games and shared the whole experience with me. Coming from being really good friends to sharing an experience like that was really special.
"The two of us vowed that we would walk into the next Opening Ceremonies together. He supported me throughout three years of trying to get back to jumping. There was a lot of pressure to come back really strong after three years off. Thankfully I did and qualified for the  Olympics. Walking into the Opening Ceremonies in 2006 was, to this day, one of the highlights of my athletic career."
Outside of The Speedy Foundation, Cook has another major interest when it comes to giving back.
"For me, one of the biggest things I’m passionate about is youth and sport and being active," she said. "Anything that is along those lines really calls to me. I’ve had the chance to go to Jordan, Rwanda and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania with two different organizations — Kids Play International, which is based here in Park City, and Right to Play."
Kids Play International works to promote gender equality through sports. Cook said it’s been great to see how the work has affected communities across the globe.
"Those kinds of experiences have taught me so much about how sport can benefit kids in really hard situations," she said. "Transferring those life skills you learn through sport to these kids in really underserved communities is really important to these groups. They have a year-round program that they manage themselves in their communities, which is really great. It’s super sustainable and not just us going over there, building something for them and then leaving. We work with the coaches and the people that are over there developing the programs. We also get a chance to work with the kids a little bit."
Cook works for Skullcandy, a Park City-based headphone and speaker company, as the manager of sport and human potential. She said she enjoys seeing a for-profit company like Skullcandy work with local nonprofits to help the Park City community.
"Everyone has the same goals," she said. "Everyone on our ‘Born in PC’ committee and our ‘Give Back’ committee at Skullcandy, our goal is to make a difference in this community. Just to be able to sit with someone on the nonprofit side and discuss what our goals are and what their goals are, and to create something that serves both of those goals, is so much fun. We’re actually doing a community day with [the Youth Sports Alliance] up at the Olympic Park this coming week to, again, just teach kids the life lessons of sport and how to be active."
One final organization Cook works with on a weekly basis is Classroom Champions. She’s currently working on expanding the organization to included NCAA athletes.
"[They] provide Olympic and Paralympic mentors for kids across the country and in Canada," she said. "What they do is pair these [athletes] with underserved communities through different classrooms — K through about eighth grade. These athletes send videos monthly throughout the whole school year and build a really great relationship with these kids."
Despite working and volunteering and coaching, Cook said she still manages to find some time to hit the slopes. She can usually be found on her skis on weekends or, she said, on powder-day mornings.
"Last year, I broke my thumb, so I had a little bit of a setback," she laughed. "It’s actually a little bit absurd — I spent the last 10 years injury-free as an athlete and then broke my thumb last season. I’m definitely trying to get some [backcountry] touring in, but I also want to ski on the mountains as well and get some time at Park City and Deer Valley."
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