Carol Cooke AM
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. Leading an exciting life as a Police Officer in Toronto, Canada, Carol worked undercover in the drug squad for 4 years.
But life was about to change dramatically – for better and worse. Carol fell in love with an Australian, married and moved half way 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 at the age of thirty-six “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 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 this doctor had told her. Her health issues didn’t end there and in 2003 she had an Ovarian Cancer scare, but determination set in and life continued on.
Her introduction to disability took place in 2001 when she was in a wheelchair full time but through some medical intervention using Botox, intensive physiotherapy and getting back into exercise she decided that she now needed to incorporate her MS into a sporting life.
Carol was a national level swimmer in Canada while she was growing up and, with an unstoppable nature and a passion for sport – she took up competitive Para rowing in December of 2006. She 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.
She has gone on to win 3 Gold Medals at two Paralympic Games (2012 & 2016) and she has won 7 World Championships and continues to compete internationally, most recently in 2018 winning the World Cup Series. She has overcome significant adversity to become a role model providing ongoing inspiration not only to the Paralympic movement but also to able bodied athletes and the community.
As a swimmer, rower and cyclist Carol has proved her versatility in sport over the last 47 years and now at an age where most people are thinking of retirement Carol continues to race at an elite international level.
Carol is an inspiration to everyone she meets due to her kind, caring and ‘can do’ approach to life. Her deep understanding of life enables her to provide inspiration to groups ranging from senior management to school children. She helps people believe that nothing is impossible, that anyone can overcome adversity and self-doubt to find their inner gold.
She is also the founder of the MS 24 Hour Mega Swim in 2001, which is one of the fastest growing fundraising events in Australia and has raised over $9 million which provides scholarships to people living with Multiple Sclerosis to follow a dream.
Carol was named in the 2014 Australia Day Honours List being named a Member of the order of Australia (AM). She received this award in recognition of her significant service to sport as a gold medalist at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, and for fundraising and representational roles with charitable healthcare organisations.
In 2015 Carol became an author of her book “Cycle of Life”. In 2016 Carol updated her book and changed the name to ‘Finding Your Inner Gold.’
Although living with the never ending symptoms of this unpredictable disease, Carol has the strength and courage to get up each day with a positive and motivated attitude. She has learnt to live for today and not worry about what may or may not happen in the future.
Carol believes that, “Nothing is impossible if we dare to face our fears and believe in ourselves. The greatest pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do.”
A fatalist by nature, Carol believes everything happens for a reason. If she had not been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, she would never have become a cyclist, there would be no 24 Hour Mega Swim and the programs that the money has gone to would not be running. Suddenly everything seemed to make sense. Perhaps a grand plan was at work.