By Laura Robinson
Inuk Olympic athlete Jesse Cockney was a three-year-old and living in Yellowknife when he first put on a pair of cross-country skis.
“Like any young kid he enjoyed trying and didn’t seem to mind the minus-30 temperatures too” says his father Angus Cockney, who was a two-time gold medalist at both the Canadian cross-country ski championships and the Canada Games in the 1970’s.
Jesse has come a long way from those frigid days. His family moved to Canmore, Alberta where the 1988 Olympic Games trails were calling his name. In the competitive, but highly supportive environment of his family and friends, Jesse thrived and learned to specialize in the sprinting events of his sport. He was hoping for better results in February’s Sochi Games, where he was 53rd out of 86 skiers. He’s not one to make excuses, but Jesse suffered through a nasty cold for much of the Games. Still, his first Olympic experience gave him a wealth of knowledge.
“As far as I’m concerned I think that I need to embrace sprinting more – move this forward and leave distance racing as a way to prepare for sprints. This will probably mean shorter and more intense workouts in the summer as well as more of an emphasis on strength in the gym. Sochi was such an amazing experience and so exhausting from all the energy being poured into every race I did, but I still have Canadian National championships in Corner Brook to attend” Jesse e-mailed on his return home.
Skiing has always meant far more than competition for Jesse and Angus. They’re both committed to getting more Aboriginal people – especially those in the far North – into healthy lifestyles and embracing whatever their passion may be.
“I hope that they feel inspired to set goals and work towards achieving them” Jesse says of Aboriginal youth. “I think that people will understand the hard work that’s gone into qualifying for the games and I hope that this resonates in people and communities in the North.”
Meanwhile, his father still visits Old Crow, a Vuntut Gwitchin community in the Western Arctic to help coach the cross-country skiers there. You might call him an honourary skiing uncle to thousands of Aboriginal children over the decades as he returns to Aboriginal communities to help kids ski.
What’s his advice to adults who care deeply about children? Not all children have their parents with them so others must step in and play that caring role.
“A child needs the full support of Mom and Dad,” says Angus, noting that Jesse was lucky to have support from his younger sister, Marika. “We were always there at all the races cheering him on and encouraging him along the way. I think he made it a reality by putting in the time to train and stayed focused on being healthy. I knew he was on a road to lead a healthy lifestyle, go on to see the world and meet a lot of positive people along the way. Good for him.”
In March Jesse was heading to Newfoundland for the Canadian championships, and hoping to catch some serious R&R on the downhill slopes in April. May will see him preparing for the World Championships in Falun, Sweden.
“I’m really excited about the prospect of maybe taking a different approach to training this summer” he says and adds some advice to any young person with a passion.
“Be patient! I work very hard to be patient and it pays off in spades. Enjoying the process, being in the moment, and being happy to work hard makes achieving goals that much easier.”
He’d also like to thank the volunteers who made Sochi a positive experience when he was a bit down with a cold and results that did not reflect his abilities when healthy.
“There was a massive groups of volunteers and workers at Sochi 2014. They were so thrilled to have the games in their home country and were amazing people to be surrounded by for the weeks that we were in the Laura Valley and at the Coastal cluster. Huge thanks to them for making the games a great experience and for all the great interactions we had throughout the Olympics!”