Carol Cooke is a Paralympic Gold Medalist in Cycling from Australia. She has authored a book ‘Finding your Inner Gold’ in which she talks about rediscovering oneself and how to create a winning mindset. Besides being an author, Carol is dedicated to doing public service as a Motivational Speaker and inspires people to restore courage, dare to overcome ones fears and be an achiever.
Carol was a National level swimmer while growing-up, and a high performing girl in sports. Post her marriage, one day, she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and was told by the physicians ‘life is never going to be normal for you’. MS, a condition in which most people give -up hope, Carol fought hard and continued with her sporting activities. She got success first in Rowing and than in Cycling. Despite her severe condition, her choice of being involved in physical activities resulted her in winning many competitions at National and International level.
- 2018 Victorian Female Para Cyclist of the Year
- 2018 World Cup Series Winner – Female T2
- 2017 Award of Excellence – Victorian Institute of Sport
- 2017 Dual World Champion Female T2 – Road Race and Road Time Trial
- 2017 Australian Female Para Cyclist of the Year
- 2016 Victorian Cyclist of the Year
- 2016 Australian and Victorian Female Para Cyclist of the Year
- 2016 2 x Gold Medallist – Rio Paralympic Games – Road Race and Time Trial
- 2015 Australian and Victorian Female Para Cyclist of the Year
- 2015 World Champion Female T2 – Road Time Trial – Silver Medallist Female T2 – Road Race
- 2015 Finalist Victorian Australian of the Year
- 2014 Victorian Female Para Cyclist of the Year
- 2014 Dual World Champion Female T2 – Road Race and Road Time Trial
- 2014 Honoured as a Member – Order of Australia (AM)
….and many more recognition’s are credited to her .
35 years of training, 2 countries, 3 sports, 1 devastating diagnosis and you go onto win a Gold Medal at the age of 51. How do you feel now as you look back?
Well I never ever thought that 21 years ago when I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis that I would be cycling, travelling the world and winning on the world stage. I feel very privileged to be able to represent my country and proud of my accomplishments and more so proud of the fact that I didn’t let anyone or my MS dictate what I should and shouldn’t do.
What made you shift to cycling as you pushed the boundaries and created records after records?
I got very disheartened with the politics surrounding rowing at the time and wanted a new challenge so cycling was the answer to that. I love pushing myself to my limits and seeing what I can accomplish.
You are the author of ‘Finding your Inner Gold’ how can a reader benefit from this book?
I think anyone can benefit from my book because I use stories from my life to talk about how I overcame difficulties, learnt how to accept change, push the boundaries of life, learn that we can only succeed by accepting that we might fail along the way and how to celebrate our successes.
‘The greatest pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do’ is your mantra, is it difficult to practice?
I guess I was born pig-headed and stubborn. As a young child I never liked anyone telling me that I couldn’t do something. So I think this has followed me into the rest of my life. That Neurologist who told me I had MS also told me that I would never do sport again and for someone who loved sport, this was like ending my life. It was like waving a red flag to a bull, I was going to charge ahead and not listen to him. So I don’t find it difficult to practice at all. I love trying new things especially if someone tells me I will never be able to do it. And I would hope that through my book and my speaking that people would want to follow that mantra as well.
Your Tri-Cycle is custom built and it helped you to take pole positions, what makes it so special?
In fact my Trike is just a normal bicycle frame with a customized back axle with 2 wheels. The back axle fits in where the normal rear wheel would go. The special thing about it is that it keeps me upright. MS has robbed me of my balance so I can’t ride on a 2 wheel bike anymore, so with 3 wheels I can get out and ride just like anyone else.
How did your family react when you won your 1st Gold Medal at London Paralympic games – Paracycling – Road Time Trial?
The best thing about my gold medal in 2012 was that it was completely unexpected. The fact that my mother, sister and aunt where there to witness it was fantastic. There were tears all around! I think for them it was so exciting and for me at first I didn’t believe it! I had to race the men in this race so was really surprised when I heard that I had won.
Carol is an Ambassador for RIAC – Rights Information and Advocacy Centre, what does this foundation do?
RIAC helps people living with Disabilities in regards to their rights. So they have staff who will help advocate for people with disabilities to make sure their voice is heard, are fairly treated and have help to make right decisions. They help resolve any problems or conflicts, assist the person in advocating for themselves, help write letters with or for them and provide information about other agencies or services that may be for further assistance.
Your role as a Motivational and Inspirational Speaker at public forums?
I started speaking as an ambassador for MS, speaking with others who were newly diagnosed with MS, to help them navigate a whole new way of life, but to also let them know that life is not over after being diagnosed with a chronic illness. I feel my role has then gone on to help impart knowledge to others about this invisible disease called Multiple Sclerosis. It is the most common neurological disease in young adults from 20-50, so to educate others about it helps those having to live with it. But I love speaking to all people from every walk of like about how to overcome challenges and accept change into your life. Life should not be about what happens to you in life but how you handle what happens to you. I honestly believe that there is always a golden lining somewhere in adversity, it is just about looking at things in a different way and I love trying to show people how to do this.
Tell us about the success of 24 hour Mega Swim campaign?
I started the 24 Hour Mega Swim in 2001 and it was just supposed to be a one off swim. There was a program called the ‘Go For Gold Scholarship’ program run by the MS Society in Victoria, the state I live in. They were in desperate need of raising $10,000 to give 5 scholarships out for people with MS to follow a dream. That first swim was extremely successful with the raising of $22,000, so I thought that the program had at least 2 years worth of money. But people loved the event so much that I continued to run it each year. Others wanted it in their cities so I started another one in Sydney and it just progressed from there. We now have about 15-17 events yearly in Victoria, New South Wales, Tasmania and the ACT and since the first event we have raised just over $10 million. We have handed out 800 plus scholarships and helped fund a financial support program. I am very proud of the fact that next year will be the 20th event at the pool where it first started – the Fitzroy Pool. This event has been supported from the very first time by the local government council (Yarra City Council) who owns the pool. I have decided that after this 20th swim I will be retiring from running it and hopefully MS will find someone else to take over. (MS now help organize all the other swims with community volunteer groups running them)
Presently I am training for the 3rd World Cup of the season which will be in Canada at the beginning of August 2019 and the World Championships in the Netherlands in September 2019. But next year is the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games and I am hoping to make the Australian Team for those games again. After that I am not sure what I will do. I will always keep cycling because it is keeping me walking and I will reassess my options for racing after those games. And who knows I am open to trying new things….so you never know where I might pop up!
Ways to connect with Carol Cooke:
Author: Vijay Malhotra, Mumbai