Dad made dreams come true

Courtesy of Emily Cook

Emily Cook's father Don has been by her side throughout her career in aerial skiing.

Growing up, there were a few things I knew for sure. I knew my family was a little different. I knew I was loved, and I knew if I worked hard enough, I could achieve anything. My father raised me to know these things.

Though my dad and I were surrounded by a myriad of friends, family and loved ones who impacted our lives on a daily basis, it was often “just the two of us.” My mother died when I was very young, after a car accident caused by a drunk driver. As I approach 34, I'm now the same age my dad was when this happened, and I'm overcome by the impact something like that would have on my life today.

There are few words that can begin to describe how this experience must have been for my family, but despite the tragedy before him, my father managed to remember that he had a daughter to raise, and for this I am most thankful.

Throughout my childhood my dad made sure I was surrounded by love, yet there were countless times that I missed having a mother. As a young girl I had some dark moments where I was certain life couldn’t possibly be any more unfair. With her photo tucked under my pillow, I grieved for a mom I never had the chance to know.

But in the wake of each moment of despair, my dad was there. In my eyes, he was a solid foundation of hope and inspiration, always encouraging, always moving forward, being both mom and dad. Over the years we moved through these experiences together. Through stories and pictures, he and our family taught me to know and love my mother, a gift I now hold close to my heart.

Courtesy of Emily Cook

Don Cook has shared many of his passions with his daughter Emily, including one for fly-fishing.

As I grew up, my dad realized the amount of energy his young daughter had and quickly enrolled me in as many sports programs as possible to give me an outlet for all that fire. He taught me to share his passions of photography, fly-fishing, scuba diving and skiing, and he committed to providing me with every opportunity available. He rarely missed a soccer game, diving meet or gymnastics competition and though we of course had our disagreements at times, they were rare, and we always managed to come up with a solution together. We were a team.

When I discovered my love for freestyle skiing, my dad quietly made it his mission to support me every step of the way. After work on Fridays, he would pick me up from gymnastics and drive us four hours to Sugarloaf, Maine, so I could train on snow. On those long rides, we discussed the constellations, school and often my dreams of becoming an Olympian.

My dad reminded me that my dreams could, and would, come true -- that obstacles were there to make us stronger and to always work hard and play hard. He taught me how to set goals and how to plan and work to achieve those goals. Today, the dreams we discussed on those long car rides have been checked off, and new goals have emerged. Though he never pointed it out directly, I knew my dad’s life experiences proved that all I envisioned for my life was possible.

Looking back, the times we have shared on my Olympic journey are memories I will treasure forever, and I know that not one moment of it would have been possible without my father’s love, support and constant encouragement. Through crashes and success, he has been my foundation. He has picked me up from the depths of disappointment and shared the celebration of life’s most precious moments.

Now that I'm in my thirties, on occasion our roles reverse. This spring my dad spent a few weeks in my home, rehabilitating from a knee replacement. This time he was the one who needed support, and together we navigated the details of his recovery.

But, just as quickly, we switch back, because, let’s face it: I’ll always be his little girl. On a daily basis I call him to celebrate some random success, ask what to do about a flat tire, to help with some yard work or for his advice while steering through life’s many choices.

Perhaps, it has always been this way, the ebb and flow of life. But today, what I know to be true is that our journey is far from complete, our family is still a little different, I am loved and that with hard work I can achieve anything.

Thanks for helping me achieve my dreams, Dad, and happy Father’s Day.