Olympian Emily Cook on the Importance of Giving Back
Emily Cook is a nine-time World Cup medalist, earning three gold, one silver, and five bronze and qualified for four Winter Olympics. She created “Visa Champions Creating Champions”, a mentoring program during which Olympians from a variety of winter sports worked with youngsters in the community and was a mentor with Classroom Champions for many years.
What inspired you to give back to your community and use your platform for good?
I was raised by my father and he led by example when I was growing up. No matter how busy he was, he always found a way to contribute to and to engage in our community. To this day, my dad spends multiple days per week at the National Ability Center in Park City working with children and adults in their equestrian program, which provides Adaptive Horseback Riding (you can see his photo with one of the participants here) and Equine Assisted Learning (EAL).
What are some of the activities you’ve participated in (or led) within your community in terms of service?
While I’m currently working as an executive at Eminent Series Group, I most recently spent the bulk of my days working with Classroom Champions (CC) as their Athlete Mentor Manager. CC works with schools to provide inspiring Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) curriculum and mentorship programs to improve engagement, build growth mindsets, and inspire positive classroom culture. I loved getting the chance to work with our athlete mentors everyday to support each of them in getting the chance to consistently make a difference for children.
I loved for Classroom Champions and every athlete who has come through as a mentor has made a lasting impression on me. It is such an incredible thing to see the impact that each mentor has on the students and teachers that they work with.Emily Cook
What was the first moment that you realized the importance of using your platform to give back?
In 2002, when I was injured prior to the Salt Lake City Olympic Games, I began to recognize that I wanted to expand my impact beyond athletics. Throughout the three years that I spent working to get back to my sport, I had the chance to connect with my community in a very rewarding way. I worked with the athletes I knew from the 2002 games and my sponsor Visa to connect them locally with young athletes in the community and what I saw from that made me simply want to do more. So, I got involved everywhere I could to help kids learn the lessons I had learned growing up in sport. It was around that time that I connected with Athletes for Hope, Right to Play, the Women’s Sports Foundation and Kids Play International and once Classroom Champions was created, I joined there as a mentor. I know that during that time I got as much out of participating with these organizations as the children we were working with.
One of my biggest goals is to get more and more athletes connected with students through [organizations like] Classroom Champions because I know first hand the difference it makes everyday both for the athlete and for the students and teachers they get to work with. To be honest, it makes a pretty big difference for me everyday as well.Emily Cook
How did you balance being an Olympic athlete and participating in service?
While I was an athlete, I found that having service focused projects in addition to training and competing helped me to keep things in perspective and enhanced my time on the aerial hill. Having a platform as an athlete and using that for good helped me to feel like what I was doing everyday made a difference. I would say that participating in Classroom Champions as an athlete and working with Athletes for Hope while I was not on the hill made me a more successful athlete overall and I am thankful for the opportunity to provide that space for other athletes today through my job.
What is your advice to other athletes across all levels of sports who are looking to get more involved in community service and advocacy?
My advice for athletes looking to get more involved is to connect with the athletes who you know are out there making a difference in the communities that you are passionate about. Ask them questions about what they love about the organizations they work with or how they have taken the initiative to start their own ways of contributing. There are so many ways to make an impact and to me that is your sport legacy.
I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to learn valuable life lessons through participating in sport for so long and I love getting the chance to pass on those lessons.Emily Cook
I will always be involved in giving back in the sports world, it is so deeply ingrained in who I am.