Cook said Friday that she might keep going if she thought her body could withstand it, but will be content to view the Olympics from another vantage point next time around. "I don't know where I'll be," she said, gesturing around the base of the hill where coaches, reporters and spectators stood in different pens, but said she'll remain connected to the sport.
Off the hill, she has already found long-term purpose in her involvement with the Speedy Foundation, established by Peterson's family and friends after his death to tackle mental health issues and suicide prevention. Cook has been one of the most visible faces of the organization, which was instrumental in starting the first suicide hotline in Peterson's home state of Idaho.
In an email, Linda Peterson, Jeret's mother, called the petite Cook "a gentle and giant spirit ... the most gracious and empowering person I know."
Maybe it was a stoic face she was putting on for reporters, but Cook did pause when asked about her good friend Jeret “Speedy” Peterson, the three-time Olympian and silver medalist in the 2010 Winter Olympics who took his life in a remote canyon in Utah in July 2011.
“He would have been bummed I didn’t hit the second jump,” Cook said. “He’s with me. He’s here. I’m positive of that. My mission is to carry on what he started. To continue on with his legacy. To continue to have conversations about mental health … conversations about depression. To get people the help they need.”
Cook said she would remain in aerials in part because of the influence of Peterson.
“He taught us how to be a team and I’m going to teach the younger athletes how to do that, too,” she said. “Man, our future is so good in our sport. These kids are so good at 16, 17 years old and Speedy was too and look at what he did.”
Regardless of who makes the team, there's little doubt that the members of the men's and women's aerial teams in Sochi will be asked about the impact and legacy of Peterson, the man behind the Hurricane.
In 2011, Peterson took his own life in a remote canyon in Utah. He had battled depression and spoke openly in Vancouver and before the Olympics about his long struggle with drinking and two suicide attempts.
The tight freestyle ski community pulled together to honor Peterson, not only domestically but internationally. Ferguson had traveled the World Cup circuit with Peterson for at least five seasons.
"He was awesome, always having a blast, always having a smile on his face," Ferguson said.
Olympic athletes are unique in that for most, their sport is in the spotlight only once every four years, so the weight they carry into competition can feel magnified. A small stumble can feel like four years of training has been for naught and an entire nation has been let down. Mentally and emotionally, it can be a delicate balancing act.
"We're in a rough lifestyle," said Steven Holcomb, an Olympic bobsledder who battled depression and survived a suicide attempt. "It's kind of an antisocial lifestyle. I spend four to five months a year traveling. It's different. You have to make a lot of sacrifices along the way, which kind of leads to that kind of depression."
Next month, the United States will send more than 200 athletes to the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. They all juggle a variety of issues and pressures, and the very best have an incredible ability to block out extraneous stressors and focus on the competitive task in front of them, says Nicole Detling, a U.S. Ski and Snowboard team psychologist.
In the air, Peterson was bulletproof and beautiful. It was when he was on the ground that problems seemed to pop up. Detling first met Peterson in 2002 and says she needed to refer him to others better equipped to handle mental health issues.
"Most people might get through one, maybe two traumatic events in their life," she said. "Not every time you turn a corner. Speedy just had so many demons he was fighting on a consistent basis."
(See video 'Up in the air: The life of Speedy Peterson' below)
The two worlds gradually merged, and in 1996 he met Speedy, a tough kid from a broken home who would become his “son de facto.” “To see all the hardships Speedy came from and how he came alive as a person, that made me be sure I did this more,” says Miller.
Two years later, Darla Hall was looking for a place for her son Tanner, then a promising teenage moguls skier, to live while he pursued a pro career in Park City. Speedy befriended Tanner, and Miller agreed to take him in. “Kerry was a father figure to Tanner,” says Darla. “He had a huge influence on him.”
During one stretch, Miller had eight kids living with him, including future pros Mike Wilson and Timy Dutton. He shuttled them to and from school in a van. He cooked for them, disciplined them. “Think of Kerry as an uncle, father, coach, policeman and mother—heavy on mother,” says Chris Goepper, Nick’s father. “And he likes the underdog because there’s a lot of people out there who come from means in the ski world, and he likes to try and help the underdog figure out a way to make it.”
Her memories of 2002 are more emotional on this 10th anniversary because Peterson took his own life this summer. His mother gave Cook the gloves he wore, along with a picture of the two taken in 2006, which she has framed at her house.
She was at Deer Valley when USSA officials honored Peterson by naming the lift that takes aerialists to the top of the kickers "The Hurricane." It was the jump Peterson landed in the 2010 Games that earned him a silver medal.
And now she knows she must do for him what he did for her 10 years ago today. "I've never been at Deer Valley without him," said Cook of Peterson. "We all miss him a lot. … It's hard not having him on the hill, but at the same time, I feel a responsibility to pass on all of those amazing qualities to all of the athletes."
"I have done my fair share of mourning and grieving, but I will get it together on the hill. I know how to hear his voice in my head and use it to my advantage. I will do what he's always done for me," she said. "He was jumping for me."
When Jeret “Speedy” Peterson took flight, you didn’t have to know a full-triple-full-full from a triple-venti-mocha-latte to know you were witnessing something spectacular. For the past six years, Peterson was the only aerials skier in the world who could nail a quintuple-twisting triple backflip. Unlike other quints, Peterson ripped out three twists on his second flip, a most improbable sequence.
The maneuver was so outlandish that he dubbed it the Hurricane, and when he hit it, he hit it big; in 2007, he set a world-record score with it. Three years later, in Vancouver, the Hurricane vaulted Peterson from fifth place to an Olympic silver medal, forcing the eventual champion to throw a trick that he had never tried in competition.
But we may never see the Hurricane again. On a damp July night in Lambs Canyon, Utah, about 15 miles northwest of Park City, Peterson took his life with a gunshot to the head and left a gaping hole in the heart of the ski world. Peterson was 29.
Aerials skier Emily Cook was a teammate and friend of Peterson's, competing alongside him at the last two Olympics.
"Speedy was an amazing athlete," she said Tuesday night through a U.S. Ski Team spokesman. "I will always remember jumping alongside him as he pushed the sport, himself and his teammates to be the best. In addition to being the incredible athlete that we all knew, Speedy was a true friend. His loyalty and commitment to each of his teammates was unwavering and he will be missed by all who knew and loved him."
U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association President and CEO Bill Marolt, called Peterson "a great champion who will be missed and remembered as a positive, innovative force on not only his sport of freestyle aerials, but on the entire U.S. Freestyle Ski Team family and everyone he touched."
"Today is a sad day,'' U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun said in a statement. True enough. It is never supposed to happen this way, to the happy athlete we might remember seeing standing on the podium. Not when he is 29.
We grow accustomed to the faces in professional and major college sports, as they compete year after year, but there is something different about Olympians who flitter across the public stage. We share but a brief interlude with many of them. We follow their exploits, in sports we barely recognize, and then they vanish. Here at the opening ceremony, gone by the closing.
If they do well, our lasting image is often of them clinging to medals as if they were their hearts. It is easy to believe they will take that joy and live happily ever after.
“Speedy was an amazing athlete,” added teammate Emily Cook. “I will always remember jumping alongside him as he pushed the sport, himself and his teammates to be the best. In addition to being the incredible athlete that we all knew, Speedy was a true friend. His loyalty and commitment to each of his teammates was unwavering and he will be missed by all who knew and loved him.”
Some of Jeret’s many accomplishments included:
-Named the Ski Racing Magazine 2001 Freestyle Junior of the Year. -A member of the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team for 11 years, and was one of the most accomplished freestyle aerialists in U.S. history; he captured 15 World Cup podiums and seven victories in six years. -Nickname “Speedy” was given to him since, as a young boy, he kept cutting in line to get more jumps into the splash pool. Because of his big helmet, coaches decided he looked like the cartoon character Speed Racer. -Won the 1999 U.S. Junior Championship title, collected aerials bronze at the 2000 and 2001 Junior Worlds Championships, captured the 2005 World Cup title and was a member of three Olympic and four World Championship Teams. -Was a full-time business student at Westminster College in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Our thoughts go out to the friends and family of Jeret Peterson. His contributions to skiing were invaluable, and his character and charisma left an impression on all who met him.
Ever since their first meeting in Torino in 2006, Natalie Morales and freestyle skier Speedy Peterson always had a special connection. Today, Natalie remembers her fun-loving friend, who took his own life Monday.
"He spoke about battling depression and even had thoughts of suicide. That was always the hardest part for him, just living life. It wasn’t competing. It was living that was hard." Natalie said.
"I'm heartbroken for his whole family. My heart goes out to them, and the prayers of the nation are with them today," she said. "He was so special and had that spark that just touched us all and he was so excited to represent our country, and at the same time, I think there was a lot more that we didn't know about Speedy.
"I hope people just remember him for the great joy he brought all those people who cheered for him at the Olympics."
The skiing community reacted with shock to his death. A true innovator in the sport, Peterson landed the silver in Vancouver with a daring five-twist and three-flip aerial maneuver called the "Hurricane."
"The entire Olympic family is heartbroken to hear the news of Jeret 'Speedy' Peterson's untimely passing," said U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun. "I know Speedy's friends and family were incredibly proud of his effort in Vancouver, and his achievements were an inspiration to people all over the world."
Blackmun added: "The personal challenges that Speedy has battled are familiar to all of us, and on behalf of the U.S. Olympic Committee, I'd like to offer my sympathy to Speedy's family and friends. Today is a sad day."
Peterson had not planned on competing in the upcoming 2012 ski season and had been working toward a business degree at Westminster College in Salt Lake City.
Jeret "Speedy" Peterson had the kind of smile that you couldn't help but return.
He'd flash that grin, and you found yourself, without even considering why, smiling back at him.
Polite, accommodating, effusive and funny, Speedy seemed to wear his heart on his sleeve. A three-time Olympian, the aerial skier had talent, good looks, success and personality to spare.
It seemed impossible that such a bright light would know anything about the dark torment of depression.
But he did.
Seventeen months after his greatest professional triumph — an Olympic silver medal — the Boise native who lived and trained in Park City lost his battle with a disease that has haunted him most of his adult life. In an isolated section of Lamb's Canyon on Monday night, police said he called 911 and then took his own life with a single gunshot.
"Depression is an interesting beast," he told me about a month before the Vancouver Winter Olympics. "It really is. It's something that is very misunderstood, and it creeps up on you slowly."
Unlike a broken arm or physical ailment, it is harder to see, harder to understand, harder to heal.
"It's one day you're like, 'Holy cow! I'm depressed'," said Peterson, who was studying business at Westminster at the time of his death. "Figuring out what works has been very difficult. Figuring out how to fix it has been very difficult."
He took time away from the sport he loved twice hoping to heal his broken heart.
“Today is a sad day in our sport,” Bill Marolt, the CEO of the U.S. ski team, said in a statement Tuesday. “Jeret ‘Speedy’ Peterson was a great champion who will be missed and remembered as a positive, innovative force on not only his sport of freestyle aerials, but on the entire U.S. Freestyle Ski Team family and everyone he touched.”
Peterson got his nickname because of the big helmet he wore, one that made him look like Speed Racer of cartoon fame.
But quickly, he became better known for the “Hurricane”— a triple-twisting, double-flipping trick off the snowy ramp that was more difficult than anything anyone else would try.
At the 2006 Turin Olympics, there was no avoiding the spectacle that was Jeret Peterson, the American freestyle aerialist known as Speedy.
He wore large, shiny earrings off the snow and a gleaming, oversize belt buckle on it. His effervescent personality fit nicely with the stories he told, like the time he parlayed $5,000 he earned working at Home Depot into $200,000 at a Las Vegas blackjack table.
Jay Leno and Katie Couric were among the interviewers lined up before the Olympics to laugh at every one of Speedy’s well-delivered tales.
Peterson, 24 at the time, was no fake; he was a true gold medal favorite. He had a dangerous jump, the Hurricane, that few were willing to try, and he promised to attempt it regardless of the circumstances.
“I’m going out with the Hurricane,” he said at the time. “I’ll probably finish first or last. But I’m doing it.”
After the Olympic aerials qualifying round in Italy, Peterson was third. A properly executed and reasonably safe jump in the finals that night could have still yielded the gold. Instead, Peterson kept his word. Everything about the launch and execution of the Hurricane was nearly perfect — five twists and three flips — with Peterson soaring 55 feet into the night sky. He landed on his skis. But ever-so-slightly off balance, he touched his right hand to the snow to steady himself.
The aerials judges came down hard on Peterson for the imperfect landing. He finished seventh.
Peterson took the setback well during interviews afterward. He said he was proud to have challenged himself with the hardest of choices, and added that life was about “going all out.”
Many of Peterson’s family members and a few friends from his Idaho hometown were with him that night in the tiny village of Sauze d’Oulx, and they headed to a bar where they were joined by several other representatives of the United States ski team.
Several hours into this gathering, according to the police, Peterson punched and fought with his best friend, Mason Fuller, whom he had known since high school. The next day, the United States ski team — already under fire for not curbing the late-night hours Bode Miller had been keeping — publicly rebuked Peterson and asked him to leave the Olympic Village. Peterson complied.
“After I got home, a tremendous number of people wrote me e-mails telling me I was a disgrace,” Peterson said in an interview last year. “It was pretty clear what people thought of me.”
Peterson lost many of the endorsements and sponsorships that had sustained him financially. By 2007, he had quit his sport and gone back to Idaho, where he worked in construction. Pounding nails and pushing wheelbarrows day after day, he had plenty of time to reconstruct the last few years of his life. Peterson decided that more than his final jump at the Turin Olympics had been off balance. He had indeed been living life by “going all out.” And look where it landed him.
He quit drinking alcohol and came to grips with other demons, like the effects of witnessing a good friend commit suicide. He found a way to put the 2006 Olympic experience, on and off snow, into perspective and sought the forgiveness of his friends, family, coaches and teammates.
Last season, he started competing in aerials again. He has been inconsistent this winter, but he has won some competitions, including the recent United States Olympic trials. He will be an Olympic medal contender again.
“I lost an awful lot for getting in a bar fight,” Peterson said last year, seated in a clubhouse lodge next to the aerial jumps in Lake Placid, N.Y. “But you pay for and you learn from your mistakes. I miss the money that it’s cost me to this day, but I’m a different person now and you couldn’t pay me $10 million to go back to being the person I was in 2006.”
He got his nickname at a training camp in Lake Placid when he was 11 because he liked to cut the lift lines so he could get in more jumps, and because his coaches thought the precocious, frisky 5-foot-9 Peterson reminded them of the cartoon character Speed Racer. But Peterson could fearlessly jump, flip and twist. Sure, he landed on his head sometimes, but he got up and tried again — often within minutes.
“You can’t let the bumps and bruises affect you,” he said before the 2002 Olympics. “You’re toast if you do.”
Peterson was 20 when he finished a surprising ninth at the 2002 Salt Lake Games, and he was a world champion by 2005. He was a news media darling and a great interview subject, bubbling and amusing. But he had his dark moments. He would talk about his sister, Kim, killed by a drunken driver in 1987. In 2005, he told Sports Illustrated that he had been molested as a child growing up in Boise, though he would not say by whom.
In the summer of 2005, Peterson invited a friend of his, Trevor Fernald, to stay with him at an apartment in Park City, Utah, where the United States ski team has an aerials training facility. Peterson knew Fernald had recently been struggling with alcohol and drug problems, and on the afternoon of June 26, Peterson doubled back to the apartment to check on him. When Peterson walked through the door, Fernald raised a pistol to his head and pulled the trigger.
“One minute my buddy is there looking at me, and the next minute I’m trying to put his eyeball back in his head,” Peterson said, telling the story last year with a blank expression. “It was horrible, but I talked to a lot of people who helped me. Still, I was raised in a blue-collar neighborhood and I felt I should be able to tough it out. So after a few months, I figured I was over it. I now know I wasn’t.
“I was left with a lot of unresolved issues — guilt, depression. I covered it up with a lot of alcohol. Even after the Italian Olympics, I wasn’t right, and I decided I had to get away to get my mind straight.”
The solitude and simplicity of life in Idaho helped the healing. He did not touch his ski boots for a year, and he quietly chose sobriety.
“I didn’t announce it, didn’t go to rehab, and I don’t even remember the date of my last drink,” he said. “I know it’s years now. I just realized that alcohol and me don’t mix, so I said goodbye to an old friend. And without that coping mechanism, I was able to deal with the real hurt and pain.”
In time, he also decided to make a comeback, with the 2010 Olympics as the motivation.
“Salt Lake was an Olympic highlight and the Italian Olympics were a lowlight, so I need one more,” Peterson said. “I learned a lot from my mistakes and I owned up to them. No one who was there the night of the fight in Italy is mad at me. Mason is still my best friend. At one point, somebody said to me, ‘Dude, it was a bar fight, let’s move on.’ But it was important because it did make me see what I had to change.”
One thing that has not changed is his determination to perform the Hurricane. It may be the key to winning an Olympic medal.
He has landed the trick in three of five World Cup competitions this season, and according to the United States aerials coach, Matt Christensen, has been regularly practicing it since Jan. 3. Christensen added that Peterson’s training jumps had so far been better than his competition jumps.
“The weather may dictate whether I can do the Hurricane,” Peterson said. The jump, still not common in competition, is so named because performing it makes Peterson feel as if he is in the middle of a hurricane.
“If on the day of our competition, the wind is coming off the Pacific Ocean, it might be a little dicey for me to try it,” Peterson continued, “but I’ll probably decide the night before the competition and stick to that decision. I’m not going back to the Winter Olympics to do something predictable or easy. I’m going back to do something special — something people can remember me for.”
Peterson said not a day has passed when he doesn't hear something about his ouster from Italy. He doesn't want to downplay it, says he wishes he could have those moments back. But to act like that's the worst jam he's ever been in - well, that wouldn't be true either.
"Where I was going was unhealthy and not productive and I was unhappy," he said. "I was struggling with depression, struggling with alcoholism. I had a lot of post-traumatic stress that I wasn't dealing with in the correct way."
He sips on soda instead of whiskey now, and feels like he's going in a better direction.
He will make no grand promises about whether he'll throw the Hurricane in Vancouver come February. But having wrapped up his Olympic spot at trials last month, he can focus more on practicing the Hurricane without having to worry as much about the more dependable four-twist jump that most of his competition will bring to the games.
"He's a little more cautious and he's not going to go in there as a full-blown cowboy," Christensen said. "Some of that comes with maturity. But you can't change his personality. If he's fired up and things are good, nothing's stopping him from doing it."
SR: With how he’s feeling physically right now [after crashing multiple times in warm-ups], for him to hit the Hurricane twice, what’s your reaction? KM: It’s incredible. He’s always had a tremendous amount of innate ability, he’s always been able to land it when he needs to. That’s his biggest thing, ever since he was a little boy. That’s one reason why he made the [U.S.] team so early is because he could always find his feet. Of course, he took these other kids that he helped raise, [freeskiing star] Tanner Hall and so on, and he taught Tanner how to land. Tanner progressed to what he is today because of learning how to land from Speedy. So it’s been kind of a trickle-down theory. Now all my other kids now that are freeriders watch Tanner and Speedy. They think they’re just heroes. Speedy’s a great kid, and what a wonderful hero he is for all of them.
He was hoping that being the first aerialist to successfully nail a hurricane in Olympic competition would win him a medal.
Instead, because of the landing problem, medals went to China, Belarus, and Russia.
Han Xiaopeng of China took the gold, Dmitry Dashinski of Belarus the silver and Vladimir Lebedev of Russia won the bronze.
None of this dampened Peterson's spirit, however.
"It's great. It's awesome. I love it," Peterson said of his time at the Olympics. "It gets my adrenaline going. It's absolutely everything I love about freestyle aerials. It's the one thing in my heart that I can't find anywhere else."