Cook: Mending the mind

Utah Olympic ParkThe following is an excerpt from an article recently published at

After working out at the new US Ski Team training facility in Park City, Utah, Emily Cook appeared in an all-black Lycra outfit, sat down and said, “The most exciting thing for me since the 2006 Olympics is how unexciting it’s been.”

“I’ve had four consistent years of competition behind me,” she explained. “It’s the first time I’ve gone into an Olympics feeling fully prepared.”

For Cook, a freestyle aerialist, the span included her first World Cup victory, in Moscow, Russia, in January 2008 and, last season, a pair of third-place finishes at World Cup events in Lake Placid, N.Y., and Deer Valley, Utah – not far from the Boston-native’s adopted hometown of Park City.

Living in Park City means being surrounded by reminders of the 2002 Salt Lake Games – the Games that should have marked her Olympic debut. From her living room, she can see the ski jumping venue and the Olympic rings emblazoned on one of the landing hills.

“I was 22 and the world’s most optimistic young athlete,” she said, looking back. “I was so excited to represent my county that year, right after 9/11.”

Cook made the US team, but two weeks before the Games, she was performing a simple trick in Lake Placid – a double back flip called a Lay Tuck – but weather slowed down her takeoff speed and she landed on the knoll, well short of the landing area.

US coach Matt Christensen was standing on the knoll that day and said, “I heard equipment popping off and then, a really soft whimper – the kind that sticks with you in the pit of your stomach.

Cook had broken both feet, severely dislocated the left one, and tore most of the ligaments in each.

“It felt,” she said, “like my feet exploded in my ski boots.”

Three days after surgery the 2002 Opening Ceremony was held and Cook watched it in a wheelchair in the stands. “When the US team walked in, I just lost it,” she said.

Cook had no idea if she would ski again, no less compete. Even after she healed, her left foot was turned out 45 degrees. In June 2003, she had a second operation to fuse the bone – a surgery that gave her hope but no guarantees.

All told, Cook would be out of competition for three years but while she was sidelined she began working one-on-one with a sports psychologist for the first time – and so began the crucial journey of mental rehab that eventually took Cook to the 2006 Olympics and has set her up to excel in Vancouver in 2010.

Click here to read the entire article.


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