Parkite takes on role as interim aerials head coach with U.S. Ski and Snowboard
Emily Cook is leaving her position as a coach with the U.S. aerials team this fall, not before a stint as interim head coach.
Cook takes over the top spot from Todd Ossian, who held the job through the last Olympic cycle. She will oversee one of the best aerials teams in the world as it prepares for winter before looking for a job with a less travel-heavy lifestyle.
After spending nearly four months on the road for nearly all of the past 22 years of her life, who can blame her?
Cook grew up participating in gymnastics in Boston, where she got into aerials while skiing at Sugarloaf Resort in Maine, a four-hour drive from her home each way. Her dad made the trip with her, raising Cook by himself after the death of her mother when Cook was 15 months old.
She attended Bellmont High School, then spent the winters of her junior and senior year at Carrabasset Valley Academy – a prominent ski school in western Maine.
She moved to Park City in 1997 at the age of 18, after making the U.S. national team.
Cook became a staple of the U.S. program, reaching three Olympics – Torino, Vancouver and Sochi. She had qualified for the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, but was unable to compete after a breaking both of her feet during a World Cup competition in Lake Placid, New York.
Cook said it was a snowy competition. That, along with a headwind, slowed her jump and she landed on the knoll before the dropoff.
“Yeah, so that sucked,” Cook said over the phone last week. “But I tell people all the time, that definitely defined my career.”
She said the injury gave her a chance to evaluate her career and her life, to examine who she was without aerials and ask honestly if she wanted to keep pursuing the sport.
She spent three years recovering – first, re-learning to walk, then to ski, then to jump, then to jump as a world-class athlete.
“You learn certain life lessons when you have your dreams taken away from you so quickly,” she said.
Through the process, she had friends, family and teammates who helped her stay motivated, and helped her re-learn the nuances of the sport.
She returned to the slopes a year before Torino in 2006, and many of those friends were alongside her during the opening ceremonies.
Cook said walking into the Studio Olimpico in Torino to complete her comeback was “one of the most amazing moments in life.”
“Getting to share that experience with them (her teammates) was amazing,” she said.
She took 19th overall, but kept competing at a high level, and improving. She took 11th in Vancouver in 2010 and eighth in Sochi in 2014 before calling it a career.
During her years as an athlete, Cook graduated from the University of Utah with a degree in mass communications, which helped her land a job with Skullcandy (whose headquarters are just down the hill from the Utah Olympic Park, where the aerials team trains), with whom she worked for about two years.
“I really wanted to take some time and gain some professional experience,” she said. “I got completely out of the aerials world, but was still working within the sport world.”
She landed on her feet to say the least. Cook helped Skullcandy set up a high performance lab inside the Basin Recreation Fieldhouse where the company, in partnership with the University of Utah and the University of Southern California, studied the impacts of music on athletes and helped athletes learn about their own capacities.
“The outcome was we found that music had a profound impact on athletic performance,” she said. “It was super fun, it was a great project.”
Among the projects, Cook was part of the team that helped former Navy SEAL Andy Stumpf set the world record for farthest wingsuit flight.
Then she got a phone call from Todd Ossian, the head coach of the aerials program. Ossian told Cook the team was looking for another coach and asked if she would be interested.
“It took a lot of consideration,” Cook said. “I absolutely loved what I was doing with Skullcandy and loved interacting with the community in a different way and gaining this professional experience.”
But she said she felt she was needed on the team, and was curious if the passion she felt for the sport as an athlete and the fulfillment she got from competing would translate over as a coach.
She accepted the position in the fall of 2016, and quickly found the satisfaction she was curious about in the job.
“It’s the most incredible experience to know that you’ve supported someone when they’ve had one of their best finishes,” she said. She was there to see Ashley Caldwell and Jon Lillis earn World Championship titles in 2017. But she said the greatest joy of coaching for her comes not from those triumphs, but from the small successes along the way.
“I love having a little project and spending however long it takes to reach a little tiny detail,” she said. “For me, it’s all about these little details for the athletes and watching them light up when they learn a new trick. That’s absolutely an amazing thing.”
She said it’s also very rewarding to watch athletes overcome their challenges and learn lessons they will take with them when they pull off their ski boots.
As the U.S. team begins a new Olympic cycle with the 2022 games in Beijing on the horizon, Cook is looking at other opportunities, though she plans on staying involved in the aerials community. Ossian has already left the team to focus on being a father to his family in Portland, Oregon, and Cook is thinking along similar lines – a slower pace. She said U.S. Ski and Snowboard will hire a new head coach in fall, who will likely be in the position at least through the next Olympic cycle. Part of Cook’s job now (alongside summer water ramp training) is to help set the team up for success under a new administration.
“I’m going to stick around and make sure they have a really good structure going forward for the next three years,” she said. “Continuing to coach as well but working on some of the internal stuff in addition to that.”She doesn’t have a position lined up, but said she hopes to stay in something involving athletics in the Park City community, and, hopefully, to spend more time with her husband, Rob Lauer,and their dog, Winston.
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Dave Hanscom announced last month he was retiring as volunteer race director of the Wasatch Citizens Series after 30 years in the position.