After 41 years of training, 2 countries, 3 sports, and one devastating diagnosis, Carol Cooke’s dream of winning a gold medal came true at 51. This is her story.
Carol was born and bred in Toronto, Canada where she fulfilled a life-long dream of following in the footsteps of her family and served as a member of the Toronto Police Force in Canada for fourteen years. She had it all – an exciting and fulfilling career that also saw her working in the undercover drug squad. But life was about to change dramatically, for better and worse.
Carol fell in love with an Australian, married and moved halfway around the world, and settled in Melbourne. After competing in Hobart at the Masters Swimming Nationals in 1998, she awoke one morning with disturbing balance problems and double vision.
After an array of tests, she was bluntly told, “you have MS – go home and get your affairs in order before you become incapacitated”. She was understandably devastated and the rest of the day was a blur. Having only been married for three years and with no immediate family around, her thoughts revolved around how she was going to cope with this unpredictable disease. Fortunately, Carol found the determination and spirit to defy what the doctor had told her.
Carol was a national level swimmer in Canada while she was growing up and with an unstoppable nature and a passion for sport, Carol took up competitive rowing in December of 2006, made the Australian Rowing Team in 2008 and 2009 where she competed at the World Rowing Championships, coming away with a 6th place. She has held a scholarship at the Victorian Institute of Sport since 2007 and in 2011 took up the sport of para-cycling in the trike class.
Carol was named on the Australian para-cycling team to compete in Denmark at the Para-cycling World Road Championships in 2011. She won two silver medals and in 2012 was named in the Australian Team for the London Paralympics. At the Paralympics, Carol beat the men to win a gold medal in the mixed T1-T2 road time trial. At the end of 2012, Carol was ranked number one in the world in the Female T2 category and in 2013 became dual World Champion, winning both the Time Trial and the Road Race. In 2014 she backed up her World Champion status and again was ranked number one in the world. In 2015 Carol retained her World Championship Title in the Road Time Trial and won silver in the Road Race. Also this year she was made a Member of the Order of Australia for her contribution to sport and philanthropy.
In 2016 Carol was named on the Australian Paralympic team for Rio and came away with 2 gold medals in the Road Time Trial and Road Race. In 2017 Carol once again became a dual World Champion, retaining her #1 ranking, and to cap off an amazing year was awarded the top award at the Victorian Institute of Sport – The Award of Excellence. She continued to race with another 2 World Championships in 2019.
Although living with the never-ending symptoms of MS, Carol has the strength and courage to get up each day with a positive and motivated attitude. She has learned to live for today and not worry about what may or may not happen in the future.
Carol supports others living with MS to fulfill their dreams through her initiative, the 24 Hour Mega Swim. Since its inception in 2001, the event has raised over $11 million and has provided more than 1000 Go for Gold Scholarships in the areas of employment, education, travel, the arts, sport, and music.
Carol loves speaking with audiences about her life and passions and love empowering people to “Find their Inner Gold”. Carol believes that “nothing is impossible if we dare to face our fears and believe in ourselves” and believes “the greatest pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do.”
On the Importance of a Positive Attitude
“At first, it was really hard to be positive. And I guess I’ve been lucky growing up because of the way I was raised that things can be really bad. This change was horrible in my life and it was a terrible change, but I’ve always been taught to look for just a sliver of that silver lining and try and work on that. And I think the more that we can find, even the smallest iota of positive out of a negative, then it just changes your whole mental wellbeing and starts you on a path of, well, I’m not going to look at the negative. I want to look at what’s good in life. And I guess I’ve seen so many people go down that negative hole and I didn’t want to be like that. And I wanted to be positive and I wanted to try and prove, I guess it’s like waving a red flag to a bull. I wanted to try and prove that first neurologist was wrong. When he said I couldn’t do sport again. I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t do that. It was like being a child again. And my Mom saying, ‘Well, think outside that square, somebody is telling you, you can’t do something. So think outside that square and try and prove that you can.’ And I guess what has got me through a lot is just that pigheadedness and stubbornness. Don’t tell me what I can and can’t do. I’m going to prove to you that I can.”
Believing in Yourself
“…it’s really important to have support around you for any dream or goal and people who believe in you. But the one thing is you have to believe in yourself and what you want to accomplish. And as long as you believe in yourself, then other people will believe in you as well. And that’s really important, … because a lot of older people, think, well, I’m at the end of my life. So what do I have to dream about? Oh my God, nowadays, you’ve got lots to dream about – but you have to believe that you’d be able to do it or accomplish it. or believe, Just believe in yourself. And I think a lot of older people have lost that drive have lost that belief. ”
On the Power of New
“I think as we get older, we become more fearful and we become fearful of trying something new. We become fearful when somebody puts us down and I’ve learned that you just have to overcome that fear. And the more you try, the more resilience you actually build up. And it’s amazing if you just forget about the fear and just do. The other night at a speaking gig, I said, ‘just try.’ And an older gentleman came up to me after and he goes, ‘No, that’s wrong. You [don’t try] – you just have to do.’ Don’t worry about what other people think. Just do it. And I left everybody with a challenge is to try something new and it doesn’t have to be involved with sports. It could be, as I said to them, singing outside of the shower – because we all sound really good in the shower, but outside of the shower, we might not. But just do something different. Even if it’s trying to food that you have always looked at and gone, I’m not quite sure about that. But just try a new thing because you never know how you might like it – and you might be very good at it. It doesn’t matter if you’re good at it. The more you try and the more you get over that fear, the more resilient you become. And it’s amazing what can happen if you just give it a chance.”
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