Barksdale Air Force Base- US Ski Team three-time Olympian Emily Cook has traveled the world for decades competing on her sports highest stage. After her third Olympic Games performance in Sochi, Russia the veteran freestyle aerials champion announced her retirement from the US Ski Team’s National Team and assumed a position on the team’s board of directors. In announcing her retirement, Cook opened the door for the next generation of champions who have watched her image splashed across television sets and used in the ski team’s visual marketing campaigns for nearly twenty years. Seeing new blood come into the sport is very important to Cook, who at age two lost her mother to a drunk driving accident. She was raised by her single father. “I was a wild child and he had his hands full... I owe him so much.” she shared with the Airmen.
Until this past year, helping fellow USSA athletes get motivated and stay focused was the sole responsibility of the team’s coaching and support staff members who along with each athletes circle of family and friends would design individual programs to make individual athletes the strongest team players possible.
All that changed this past winter when the USSA announced a whole new program designed around helping not only their team, but the largest team in the country... our United States Armed Forces.
Called the USSA Military Mentorship Program presented by PenFed, and a mission of connecting our nations top athletes with the world’s greatest military, the USSA MMP has Olympians like Emily Cook traveling to bases all over the world with American300 a Veteran run nonprofit that specializes in resiliency programming. Once on bases, athletes and service members connect in workspaces and get to know each other, learn from each other... far from the confines of a classroom or lecture hall the program is built around connectedness... power point and computer based learning isn’t allowed. With a relaxed and comfortable approach and led by military veterans who volunteer to host the olympians on base visits, service members and athletes are slowing things down and talking, sharing and enjoying each others company.
“So much of what goes into making an Olympic Team is based on duty, sacrifice and commitment to excellence,” says Jesse Stewart, a retired US Army Ranger wounded warrior who sits on the board of directors of American300, he adds “As service members we are required to take countless online classes and attend lectures and briefings on professional development, these visits represent a means of putting a real life face on much of what is being taught within the DoD and more importantly igniting a passion for our service members to pay closer attention to the online learning requirements, have it all mean more.”
Emily Cook agrees: “Our military members are some of the most resilient people I’ve ever met, just look at what we as a nation have asked them to do over the past two decades alone, but the stress of always being perfect, always striving for excellence can take it’s toll on anyone. This program is about sharing lessons learned from people who have been there and can relate completely to one another’s struggles. Both the athletes and service members end up better for the experiences shared.”
In 2011, after winning an Olympic silver medal in Vancouver, one of Cook’s closest friends and teammates committed suicide. “We had worked through many scary moments with Speedy ( Jeret Peterson ) and he was actually doing so much better going into the Vancouver Games, but after the Games when he announced his retirement things started to slip again. I can’t stress the importance of talking about mental illness no matter what the trigger and sticking together as a team as much as possible - it’s about caring for one another as much as possible.” says Cook.
In Peterson’s case, like that of a Barksdale Air Force Base Airmen who killed himself just days before American300 arrived on base with Cook and Paralympic Curling Captain Patrick McDonald, a Army Wounded Warrior who shares an amazing life history of never quitting, the outcome was the same.
“Speedy had reached out to us on several occasions and we’d managed to keep him from doing the unthinkable, but this one time he didn’t reach out and we couldn’t stop him. If there’s one take away that we all live with, it’s that we have to constantly take care of one another and get over the stigma associated with mental illness.”
About American300 Tours - Visits to Barksdale AFB are sponsored by Air Force Global Strike Command and the 2nd Bomb Wing. The nonprofit is also engaged with several other Major Commands throughout the DoD and Homeland Security and works regularly to support the USO and Armed Forces Entertainment Office of the DoD. American300 is an all volunteer 501c3 nonprofit. No federal endorsement of sponsors or nonprofit is intended or implied - American300.org
For more information about American300 Tours visit: www.American300.org
For more on the USSA MMP visit: www.ussa.org/military-mentorship-programFor more on Air Force Global Strike Command: www.afgsc.af.mil