PARK CITY, Utah - Paralympic and World Championships gold medalist and former World Cup champion Steve Cook (standup; Salt Lake City), who was the cornerstone of the U.S. Disabled Cross Country Ski Team for the better part of a decade, has retired, announced U.S. Disabled Program Director Sandy Metzger.
After losing his right leg below the knee in a 1988 farm accident, Cook started mountain bike racing in 1990, switched to road cycling in '93 and made the '96 Summer Paralympic Team (where he was fifth in Velodrome, seventh in the road race).
As a cross-training device, he added cross country skiing to his quiver in '95 and rapidly surged to the top of the sport, garnering seven Paralympic medals, including double gold in 2006 with victories in both the 5K freestyle and 10K classic and a U.S.-record four medals (all silvers) at the 2002 Paralympics in his own backyard. In total, Cook earned 14 medals (five gold) at the last five major championships. He clinched the 2005 World Cup title at Fort Kent, ME, in the season-ending World Championships, which doubled as World Cup races, by winning two gold and a bronze.
"He's been the backbone of this Team since '98," said Disabled Cross Country Head Coach Jon Kreamelmeyer. "Along with Willie [Stewart, retired '04] and Crenny [Mike Crenshaw, retired '06], 'Cookie' took the Team to a different level - they set the tone for what was going to take place over the next 10 years. He's certainly going to be missed."
According to Kreamelmeyer, who coached Cook through his entire 11-year international ski career, the Team will miss his competitiveness, sense of humor and leadership in the standup discipline.
"He was the model of a true competitor," he said, "Cook was a brown-bag guy who always showed up ready. He never offered excuses and always looked for the positives even if he had a horrible race."
But even more so, Cook was a Team athlete who nearly always spoke in plurals when talking about his success, explained Kreamelmeyer. "He would always say, 'We, did a great job today' when he hit the podium. To me, that's a true indicator of what an outstanding character and competitor he was. As much as he deserved it, he hated the individual spotlight and never was comfortable talking about himself."
Cook closed the 2006 season with four World Cup podiums, three of which were wins, good enough to finish runner-up in the overall title and earn him U.S. Disabled Athlete of the Year honors from his peers.
Starting a new chapter in his athletic career, Cook has been hired by the National Ability Center in Park City, UT, and tasked with developing a disabled nordic program designed to help feed the U.S. development pipeline. He will also continue his longtime employment with Sage's Way, a low-water, sustainable landscape business in Utah.
"I'm sure we'll see him around," said Kreamelmeyer, "I'll definitely utilize him as a coach whenever possible. He's certainly not leaving the sport."