PARK CITY — Watching the opening ceremonies from a wheelchair was one of the painfully beautiful experiences aerial skier Emily Cook has experienced.
“I saw all the people I’d been training with for 10 years, being in Rice-Eccles, with my dad and my two best friends who’d flown out for the Games, it was really emotional for sure,” she said. “It was definitely hard. I cried a lot. But I think being there at Opening Ceremonies was good for me.” Not because it eased the pain of losing her first Olympic opportunity to two broken feet just two weeks earlier. But because she experienced the reality of the Games in her adopted hometown.
“There was absolutely nothing that was going to get in my way from that point forward,” she said. “I was done with the pity party, and it was time to get back to work. Being there and being in a wheelchair was wild. It was amazing, though. I got to experience the Games in a different way.” Her spot went to another up-and-coming aerial skier, Jeret “Speedy” Peterson, who would leave his mark on the sport on and off the hill. He won silver at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games with a trick he called “the Hurricane” that involved five spins and three somersaults. When he landed it in Vancouver, no skier had ever landed a trick with five spins on snow.
Tragically, Peterson had been plagued with depression and committed suicide in 2011 in Lamb’s Canyon.
His family started a foundation in his memory in hopes of helping reduce the stigma of mental health issues and mental illness while providing support and suicide prevention services through The Speedy Foundation.
Cook said Speedy not only came to her house to give her daily updates on all of his experiences as a competitor, but he gained worldwide attention when he wrote “Hi, Emily” on his gloves and flashed them at the camera.
“He came to my house and told me all the tiny details,” she said, adding that she wears his belt “on the hill every day” as a tribute to him, just as he wrote on his gloves as a tribute to her. “We celebrated the Olympics in a different way.”
That experience would carry her for a long time — in fact, much farther than she planned.
“I would wake up every morning and do whatever the workout was,” she said. “It was one step at a time, every day, and I just did whatever training it was that day.”
Her dedication allowed her to persevere through nearly three years of not being able to jump on snow.
The reward was three more Olympic appearances and numerous World Cup podiums. She is now a coach with the U.S. aerial team, and on this 15th anniversary, she is helping former teammates prepare to compete on the hill where she learned to jump.