Emily Cook returns to aerials{mosimage}Aerialist Emily Cook, 24, who was forced to give up her spot on the 2002 Olympic Team after injuring her foot in training, took her first jumps in more than two years on Friday, June 11. She landed in the splash pool at Utah Olympic Park instead of on snow, but as she bubbled back to the pool’s surface, she flashed her signature gold-medal smile, broadcasting her relief and joy at finally being able to jump again.

As she surfaced, cheers and applause from coaches and teammates paid tribute to her hard work and efforts to reclaim her spot on the World Cup tour. “It was pretty emotional,” said Head Coach Matt Christensen.

“Today is the start of it. We’ve got 20 months to go” until the 2006 Olympics in Torino, Italy, Cook said. She had clinched a spot on the 2002 Olympic Team by winning the U.S. Ski Team Gold Cup at Deer Valley Resort, on New Year’s Eve 2001. She was injured January 17, 2002, in training for a World Cup event in Lake Placid, N.Y., and gave up her spot a week later (with Jeret “Speedy” Peterson named to replace Cook).

During the 29 months of surgeries, recoveries and rehab since then, Cook has worked hard toward the goal of once again jumping.

“I was holding my breath. I totally was,” she said after being cleared by Dr. Tim Beals of the University of Utah Medical Center staff. “I saw the doctor [Thursday night], and they did a bone scan, and Dr. Beals sat me down and said, ‘What would you say if I said you can pretty much do what you want?’ And I said, ‘Jump [Friday] morning?’ I said I wanted to jump when the team got together at 8 a.m.” for its first splash-pool training of the preseason. Beals gave her the go-ahead.

“I’d done everything possible-the trampolines, the plyos, the sprints, bouncing on balls,” she said. “My preparation was in place. I was nervous, but I was able to tell myself I had prepared for this for two years.”

Cook, the 2001 U.S. aerials champion, was at UOP early, went through the normal warmups and heard Christensen and Coach Darcy Downs remind them of the time frame leading to Torino. “They said, ‘Look around. These are the people we’re going to pick from. It’ll depend on the work you put in. You could be walking into Opening Ceremonies.'” She said Peterson, the reigning U.S. aerials champ and, coincidentally, the athlete selected to replace Cook when she yielded her Olympic berth as it became apparent the injury wouldn’t allow her to compete, was sitting next to her as the coaches addressed the group.

“He continues to be a really good friend and has always been a huge support. So he was sitting next to me this morning, and I hope we’re walking in together at Opening Ceremonies in Torino,” she said.

Reflecting on her first morning back, she noted it was just a year ago that she had her final foot surgery. “This was pretty emotional. Throughout the whole time I knew I’d come back some day, but there were times I had my doubts. It’s great knowing that this is the start of the rest of my career…

“It’s been a lot of head work … been a crazy, long road, been up and down and around, so it was really cool today watching all of it finally come around and to finally get back to jumping.”

She paid special tribute to Dr. Beals for his patience and professionalism in helping her resume her career. “He’s been awesome every step of the way … just awesome,” Cook said.

Christensen said, “It was pretty wild and so great to see the entire team up on the ramp, all so supportive for Emily. All 18 athletes, the entire team.” He conceded that he had his doubts when doctors told him how her pre-Olympic accident had crushed bones in her left foot. “But when you watch someone work as hard as Emily’s worked, you want her to succeed. I was pretty touched today. She came to our [U.S. Navy] SEALS camp in San Diego and she did the trampoline camp in Toronto last week. She’s proved again she’s got what it takes.”

With the first day of jumping complete, she was looking to finally get some rest. “I couldn’t sleep anything [Thursday] night,” she laughed, “but tonight I don’t think I’ll have any problems.”

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