SOCHI 2014

By Steve Mesler, 2010 Four-Man Bobsled Olympic Champion | July 09, 2013, 2 p.m. (ET)
 
Steve Mesler is a three-
time Olympian and 2010
Olympic gold medalist
in four-man bobsled.

 
Emily Cook poses during the NBC/U.S. Olympic Committee photo
shoot in West Hollywood, Calif. in April 2013.

We all grow up. We all change year after year and sometimes those changes are so small we don’t even notice them. Can you remember what kind of person you were 10 years ago and how you become who you are today?

All of a sudden we wake up one day and we are totally different. Sometimes we’re not sure how we got here or what caused those changes but we know we’re just not the same anymore.

Athletes are no different. The way we approach our training, competition and life evolves and matures as we age. I thought it would be fun to ask one of my favorite athletes, two-time Olympian and currently No. 2-ranked freestyle aerialist in the world, Emily Cook, how she has changed over the years.

To be more exact, I wanted Emily to tell us how the current version of herself can whoop up on the version of her younger athlete self. All in the name of how she sees herself as a better person and athlete now.

That’s right, we’re going to find out how “2013 Emily Cook” lays the smack down on “2003 Emily Cook” in what turned out to be four simple steps.

Steve Mesler: Hey Em! Can you give us three ways "2013 Emily" dominates "2003" Emily?" 

Emily Cook: Ha, I love it! Well, the first one is that I can walk. So, ya know, that's pretty cool!

“2003 Emily” was learning how to walk again, never mind how to ski, never mind how to jump, or be strong, or run, or do anything that a real athlete likes to do.

I may be 10 years older, but I'm also 10 years healthier. 2002 was definitely a pretty low point in my career, but it's something that I would never take back. It's something that I learned the most about myself through. There were so many people that said it was not possible and it's one thing that I'm very proud of. (A horrific injury to Emily’s feet just before the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics left her in and out of surgery for the better part of three years, almost wiping away all chances of a shot at Olympic glory.)

I would say that coming back from that injury in 2002 is the one thing that I'm the most proud of in my career.

Emily answers your questions via Skype!

SM: Do you remember any of the people who said it was impossible?

EC: There were a bunch of doctors who said it wasn't possible. I thanked them and moved on. I don't even remember their names!

SM: Ok - who said it was possible?

EC: My coaches. They stood by me through every minute of it. Matt Christianson, who was my coach from about that time through the 2010 Olympics, never questioned that it wouldn't happen.

My sponsor, VISA, which actually was kind of surprising, stood by me as well. There were a lot of sponsors who were not that into sticking with me through all of that. But for the whole three years — every year that I didn't compete VISA asked if I was going to compete in 2006. I'd say yes. They'd say ok, we're with you, what do you need? They just continued to support me through it.

My teammates were also amazing. They never even considered that I wouldn't be there for the next Olympics. Speedy, (Jeret Peterson, who passed away in the summer of 2011, and in whose memory Emily helped found The Speedy Foundation) especially, stood behind me.

He had taken my place in 2002 so there was no question in his mind that I would do everything that I could possibly do — but that he was also going to do everything to support me in it. Ryan (St. Onge) also was awesome. My two closest teammates were amazing. Basically the whole team as well. USOC, USSA, sports science — everyone just got behind me and didn't really question if it was possible. I didn't even question if it was possible.

SM: You don't even think to question that it's not possible, right?

EC: Exactly! It never occurred to be that it would take three years either. Ok — I’m injured, I'm going to rehab and no big deal. A couple of doctors had said "I don't know, I don't know if we can fix this," and I was like — that’s cute, thanks for sharing.

SM: I've said that to a handful of doctors about injuries as well. A lot of us probably have, but your injury was pretty serious!

EC: I mean, yeah, it's not really an option. There were definitely some times I got down.

There were definitely some moments that I wasn't really motivated to get to PT (physical therapy) or to do my job, but I don't think that's really what determines what an athlete does. Even if you're down on it — you still do it, right?

So that's the difference now, I'm so much healthier.

I guess there's always something as an almost 34-year-old athlete! But nothing that will stop me.

SM: So "2013 Emily" beats "2003 Emily" for the fact that there's the ability to walk! Ok, number two?

EC: I'd say my scale of contribution is way cooler. I have the same passions I did 10 years ago. I want all kids to believe in themselves and believe they can reach their goals and have the support to do that.

In 2002, I was doing that locally in Park City and through the VISA Champions Creating Champions mentorship program. We had about 30 athletes that were paired with about 30 youth in the community to inspire them and be that person who says yes all the time and teach them the lessons we've learned through sport. And that was Park City.

Now I've got Classroom Champions, which I don't need to tell you about! (But in case you’re curious, check out Emily in action being a Classroom Champions Athlete Mentor here.) So that's closer to the global reach for me — it’s American students, so it's national reach but seen everywhere.

And Right to Play and Kids Play International. Between them all I've taken that passion and taken it global — which is totally cool to me. It's really what I wanted to do.

SM: And what's that third thing that "2013 Emily" whoops up on "2003 Emily" in?

EC: I think the last one is maturity and balance. I think that 10 years of experience has helped me be a more balanced human being.

I've got a degree now and I have some amazing friends. I was really one-tracked in 2002-2003. I was just all sport, all the time. And now I've learned to compartmentalize.

I'll work hard and play hard. When I'm working hard, I'm 100 percent on the hill and I can work incredibly hard. Then I can come home and do something calming like yoga or fishing. Or I can go hang out with my friends, go mountain biking — just do something that's totally separate from being an athlete.

I think that balance has helped me be a more focused athlete as well. And really just learning to be a more normal human being!

SM: I went through that in 2006. I was so down on myself after the Torino Olympics, where we placed seventh, and I realized I needed other things in my life. I spent more time with friends and I took up fly fishing. I found passions outside of sport and it changed my life, and then my training. All of a sudden I was having big PR's in training because of it.

EC: My coaches had been encouraging that for years and I was just fighting it forever like crazy. After 2010 I just did it. And obviously it's so important to do all the right things of being an athlete, but I also think it's so important to take your time off as well.

Emily Cook soars in the women's aerials at competition at the FIS Freestyle Ski World Cup
during the Visa Freestyle International at Deer Valley on Feb. 1, 2013 in Park City, Utah.
SM: So can you give me an example of 2002-2003 of what that one-track-mindedness would have been like?

EC: For one thing it just made me completely devastated when I wasn't able to be an athlete. I was so focused. The one thing I was living for and training for was to go to the Olympics. When that was taken away (in 2002) I was completely crushed. I didn't have anything to fall back on.

I had to start creating other things when that was taken away. I did some other things and really built a community for myself. That was a real transformation from before.

And you know, one last thing on that. I'm going to add a fourth - is that ok?!?

SM: It's your show! What’s the fourth way “2013 Emily” is better than “2003 Emily?”

EC: I want to talk about my current injury in the same light. I've got this current back injury now. When they told me I have to take a couple of weeks off, I was not thrilled. But within a couple of hours I was like great, so what am I going to do?

I thought of all of these fun things I could do instead. I've kind of just been joking all week that I'm on a serious staycation! I'm going out with my friends and when I head up to the gym, I'm just watching my teammates. I'm still going to the gym and doing my thing when I need to, but having fun doing it.

I'm having a glass of wine at dinner and just enjoying the fact that I don't have to wake up at 6 a.m. tomorrow morning. I mean, if I can't do it anyways, I might as well enjoy it.

And that's the biggest difference in being injured in 2002 and being injured today. I’m ok with it and know how to handle it.

SM: That's great! 

And now for what all athletes answer at the end of Journey of Champions presented by Liberty Mutual Insurance. There are two questions and you can go any direction you want with them.

What does success look like to you?

EC: Honestly, to me, it looks like being satisfied with every day. Knowing that every day you've put everything that you believe to be right into it.

So for me it's having a solid plan. I've had a solid plan for the last five years and knowing that everyday I've done what that plan said it was going to be, and more, is most important to me.

When the day comes that I do walk away from this sport, which will come shortly, I want to be completely satisfied with everything that I've done and be able to walk away proud.

SM: Alright, I'll take that. Good answer! I was very similar. I was retiring in 2010 no matter how we did and I knew that. I did everything I could to reach my goal. Because of that I knew I would be happy with my effort and career no matter what the result was.

Ok — on to the second question.

What are the three most important factors for an athlete to reach that kind of success?

EC: Attention to detail is the first. So doing everything as it's meant to be done.

Secondly, support. That means surrounding yourself with really good people. Our support structure is so amazing right now. We have incredible coaches, great teammates and a great sports science team. Impeccable support is essential — family, friends, sponsors, USOC.

And the third is recovery. For me right now heading into my last Olympics it’s very specific, but I think it's very important.

At this point staying healthy is going to be the one thing for me that is going to help me reach my goals. So being really attentive to making sure that before and after every session I'm doing what I need to do to stay healthy. That includes nutrition, sleep, cold tubs, ice and massage. All of the details are important.

SM: It's so funny how the priorities shift, right?

EC: I think what goes with that, too, is just a general sense of grounding and being happy. I think that's so important and is such an important part of training.

I train so much better when my life is in order and when everything is the way it's meant to be. That's part of the balance thing that goes into it for me.

I pay huge attention to making sure that all of the silly little details are taken care of. My house is clean, I've gotten enough sleep and I have great relationships with my friends and family. That's such a broad scope and definition of recovery, but I consider that all going into one thing.

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