TT Worlds 2014

When I met Carol a couple of years ago, it was at a Liv women’s social ride along Beach Rd in Melbourne.  I knew from social media that she was a WORLD Champion cyclist and I was intrigued to get to know her as a person before I even focused her gold medals and rainbow stripes. 

Walking into Cafe Racer I was greeted with a soft and friendly Canadian accent, a radiant smile that exuded vitality for life, and an excitability you would expect to find in a 7 year old about to have a birthday party!  Carol is contagious, and I just wanted to talk to her and surround myself with her warm glow and have a bit of it land on me.  Oh and she commands a good bike park with her 3 wheeler roadie trike too!

Remember, I didn't even know Carol, had no expectations and no prior knowledge of jhow she was a world champion cyclist, a gold medal Olympian, an event promoter, a rower, a swimmer, a motivational speaker and that she even was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis many years prior.

Over the next year or so, I would get to know Carol more, in person and by just reading her stories, following her progress and being more amazed than ever at what makes this woman so inspiring.

In my opinion Carol represents what it means to live life BIG and she is a woman.

I am super stoked to share with you a glimpse of Carol via an interview I just completed with her.

(Jess) Carol, you are a person I have only come to know in the last couple of years through cycling but just quietly you have become someone I draw strength from and I really am inspired by your story. Can you create a quick overview of who Carol is? 

(check out www.carolcooke.com.au)

I am a whole lot of different Carol’s, for each part of my life, wrapped into one! 

  • I am a person who absolutely loves her family to bits and would do anything for them. 
  • I am a loyal friend and I treat people as they treat me.
  • I am someone living with a chronic illness who is passionate about life and about creating change in people. 
  • I want to educate people about illness/disability and empower people to believe in themselves.   I’m an athlete who wants to show the world that it doesn’t matter how old you are if you love doing something then just do it and I’m someone who loves trying new challenges.

Where were you born?
I was born in Toronto, Canada 

Can I ask when and why you moved to Australia?

At the first World Police and Fire Games in 1985 (I was a police officer in Canada for 14 years) I met a number of MFB members and their partners and was invited to come for a visit. 
I first visited Australia the following year and then made 9 trips down here from 1986-1992 when I decided to do it right and visit for a year (I fell in love with this country). 
So I took a year leave of absence from the Police Force and drove 37,500km around the country.  A few months before my year was up I was at the North Kew Football Club with friends and met my husband. I moved down at the end of August 1994 and we were married in March 1995 back in Canada.  It wasn’t hard to make a decision to live in Melbourne as I loved it and Russ has kids who live here.

After TT

Have you ever had someone tell you,"no you can't achieve this or that?"
Yes, the first time I came across this was at the ripe old age of 9! 
I loved gymnastics and a friend and I went to try out for an elite club.  I was told that I was too fat for gymnastics.  I was devastated because my friend got in and I didn’t. 
I was lucky to have parents who directed my attention to another sport…swimming and it was something that I excelled at. 
Then again when I took up rowing and after a couple months of training I won a national title but then 2 months later was told by an employee of Rowing Australia that I would “never be good enough or fit enough to make a national team.” 
It’s a good thing that I am pig-headed and stubborn, sent him a very terse email back but copied in not only the CEO of Rowing Victoria but also the CEO of Rowing Australia and worked my butt off and made the national team the following year.

You are good at a few athletic pursuits, so what do you love more? Swimming? Rowing? Cycling? 

Swimming was my love growing up and I believe moulded me into the athlete that I am, teaching me about commitment and determination. 
Rowing was my first ‘team’ sport and I admit that it is the toughest sport I have ever done.  Not only do you have the physicality of it but mentally you can never switch off. 
Cycling I love for the social aspect, the ability to explore new and exciting routes, the burn in my legs after a good climb and of course the coffee after a great ride.

Book cover

It normally takes years of life experience to get as worldly as you, would you mind sharing a few of the pivotal events that have shaped who you are today?

I am constantly learning and have much more to do! 
I guess the first pivotal event I remember was the death of my grandfather at the age of 12.  It was the first time that I realised life doesn’t last forever and when you are gone life still goes on.  Since his death I have lost other family members and friends young and old and each time it makes me remember to live each and every day to the best that I can.

My 14 years spent on the police force was certainly a pivotal time in my life.  I grew up in a family full of police officers.  I joined the police force with blinders on thinking I could change the world and it was a huge awakening when I realised that I couldn’t do that.  It became about doing what I could do to make even one person’s day a bit better.

Another moment was my diagnosis of MS.  I had never been sick a day of my life when an uncaring neurologist told me that ‘my life was over as I knew it, to go home and put my affairs in order before I became incapacitated.’  It took a while but I had to learn to live WITH my MS and not try to fight AGAINST it.

And finally that moment when I won Gold in London it really brought home that anything is possible if you believe in your abilities.

Your attitude is contagious woman & it appears as if you are unstoppable to us mere mortals. You have a few motto's that you live by, we would love to hear some of the story behind these.

My favourite motto ‘Dare to face your fears and believe in yourself and you can accomplish anything’ came from a friend of  mine who lost both his legs in a hiking accident, Warren Macdonald.  He has gone on to conquer mountains, climbing them without legs!

‘Dream Big’ – that’s just me and I think that everyone should dream big.  If we dream small and make it too easy there would be no challenges in life.  I have a couple of more dreams that I may just attempt after Rio!

World Cup 2013

‘See every difficulty as a challenge, a stepping stone and never be defeated by anything or anyone’. – I think this came about because of being told I wouldn’t make the national team in rowing.  I think that sometimes we are too quick to dismiss someone because of what we think of their ability.  But people are amazing and we don’t know what they are capable of.

You are a fiercely competitive athlete, focussed on success and doing the best you can.  The story of you being a rower and then a cyclist happens a lot in these two sports, your story is just that little bit more awesome.  Do you mind expanding on the start, the middle and now? 

When I made the national rowing crew in 2008 we attended a World Cup in Germany in an attempt to make it to the Beijing Paralympics.  From this World Cup there would be only 3 spots going to Beijing, the first 2 across the line and a wild card entry. Unfortunately we missed qualifying by 0.8 of a second, but the following year we came 6th at the World Championships so thought we were well on our way to making it to London. 

But at the end of 2010 Rowing Australia decided to drop our crew.  One of the members of the crew Alex Green started cycling and contacted me to tell me that they had a Trike category in Para Cycling.  She talked me into taking part in the Australian National Para Cycling Champs in April of 2011, so with no training other than riding to rowing and back I headed up to Queensland and did my first ever races.  I really had no idea of what I was doing but once I had raced the head coach approached me asking where the heck I had come from and that I had just smashed the qualifying speed for the national team.  So that was where it began, where it will end is anyone’s guess, but at this point I am aiming for Rio!

You possess an amazing Attitude, which you use to turn Adversity into some amazing successes as an athlete and as a person, but it didn't all come easy did it?

When I was first diagnosed with MS in 1998 it was one of disbelief and after I got over the shock of what the doctor had said, I decided that he was wrong.  All my symptoms had disappeared so he had to be wrong.  You go through a grieving process and when symptoms reappeared reality set in and I got angry thinking ‘why me’. 
I decided to educate myself about MS and chose to learn to live with it and listen to my body and I am still learning.

In 2001 I was in a wheelchair full time and was having relapse after relapse, spending quite a bit of time in hospital.  I was working full time and I would stress about getting back to work and when I did would relapse again.  It became a viscous cycle when my doctor finally said that I had to make a decision to either continue on this path or leave work and concentrate on me.  I was the hardest decision I have ever made as I had never been unemployed, but retrospectively it was the best decision I have ever made because it gave me the time to concentrate on me and get back on my feet.

But then what to do when you’re not employed? 
So I started the 24 Hour Mega Swim and that gave me a purpose. 

With the sport I just got back in the water to get my health going and I found that the more I trained and the fitter I got the better able I was to cope with symptoms.  I honestly believe that exercise is keeping me walking.  There are mornings when getting out of bed is hard to do as my legs tend to tighten up, so it makes me definitely do something each day.  I think that I am just lucky that I have enjoyed something that I found out I was good at.  If I didn’t love riding and racing then I wouldn’t be doing it and I would just find some other sort of exercise to keep myself moving.

People always told me that ‘when one door closes, another one will open’.  My answer to that is bullshit!  You have to actually take matters into your own hands, look for the door and then open the bloody thing. 

Your recent 'branding' on the Courage, Chance and Change really resonated with me and we would love to hear more about it and of course the experience of writing ‘your’ book.

I think everyone faces challenges and changes in life, which some of us are good at dealing with and some of us need a bit of help. 
A good friend Bruce who I met through MS (he was also diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma - terminal bone cancer).  He was given 6-12 months to live, he said to the Dr.  ‘Don’t tell me when I’m going to die, I’ll tell you when I’m ready.’  Towards the end of his life I would call him and ask him how he was, he always picked up and would say “I woke up this morning and I was breathing so it is going to be a beautiful day!”  He lived 7 years longer than expected and lived every day like it was his last!  He taught me a great lesson and that was to enjoy every day that you have on this earth and don’t put things off that you want to do.

This leads me to my book, Cycle of Life http://carolcooke.com.au/product/carol-cooke-cycle-of-life/

Another friend had always told me that I had something to offer the world and that I should write a book.  I had been writing a blog for a number of years but wasn’t sure what type of book to write and what my target audience would be.  I had been introduced to a woman who runs a business called “The Ultimate 48 hour Author” and I bit the bullet to pay her to help mentor me as to what direction to take. So she taught me her system of writing and last year while overseas I laid out 12 chapters and then wrote them wherever I was.  One chapter was written on a flight to Boston and one on the way home!

I then spent a solid 48hours in February with 8 other authors that she was helping where we finished off our books, met with the publisher, had a photo shoot, learnt about marketing and how to write press releases.  It has been a great experience and who knows maybe there is another book in the future.

Finally, its become very topical of late, female athletes & female cyclists specifically.
Do you have an opinion on this or perhaps even person experience as to what it means to be a female athlete in 2015?

I think that women’s sport is definitely underrated by the media.  I completely understand that what brings in money gets airplay, but if they started to put publicity around women’s sport they may find that the public would be more attracted to attending the big events, hence more money and sponsorship.

I’ve been around sport for a hell of a long time and I have seen it become more and more popular, but we have a long way to go.  I think we can see from the recent Women’s World Cup Soccer with stadiums filled that women’s sport is popular. 

We as athletes have to continue to do the right things, continue to push the boundaries of sport and show the world that women’s sport should just be looked at as ‘Sport’.  Whether we are male or female we all train just as hard as each other.

As a woman and also a disable athlete we face a double barrel…trying to get media interested in Para sport is where women’s sport was year’s ago.  It is getting better but we have a long way to go and if I can assist it in any way I will. 

What excited me about sharing her with you is that she is REAL, she has done a heck of lot in her life, she has been through tough times. 
These times are part of what has made Carol so determined to deliver in whatever she sets out to do and as I complete this interview, Carol is about to head off to the UCI Para-cycling Road world championships, representing Australia, in Nottwil in Switzerland.  In 2014 she won both Road and TT in the T2 category at the world champs and I just bet she has the determination and strength to do it again

Latest Update:

Carol had a fantastic time in Europe. First up her visit to Germany for the World Cup events at Elzach she had a win in the Time Trial and the Road Race for T2 category. Then off to Switzerland for the World Championships at Notwill, Carol won her 3rd WC in the TT earning her the rainbow stripes for another year and a Silver in the Road Race.

Just brilliant Carol.
Check out her blog on her races on www.carolcooke.com.au