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Obituary: Paralympic-medallist David Cook inspired a generation of Island sailors

He won silver in sailing at the 1996 Atlanta Paralympics. "Sailing gave me that ever so needed reason to live.”

David Cook of Victoria, who won a silver medal in sailing at the 1996 Atlanta Paralympics, never let the many barriers he faced stand between him and his love of being on the waves.

The 62-year-old former sailor died Friday.

Cook was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy, a degenerative and incurable neurological disease, at age 17. Active as a child and a former soccer player, he found innovative ways to get into a boat and sail even as his disease progressed.

The all-Island Canadian crew of Cook, John McRoberts, Kirk Westergaard and Kenneth Kelly won silver in the Sonar class with Great Britain capturing gold and the U.S. bronze on Lake Lanier in Georgia in the 1996 Paralympic Games.

“For four decades … my passion, obsession in life was the sport and recreation of sailing,” wrote Cook, on his website.

“I first got the idea when I was 19 years old from a couple of workmates who were young but seasoned sailors. One had circumnavigated Vancouver Island, with a friend, on a tiny 18-foot keelboat. After hearing their stories, I immediately began dreaming about sailing, and soon bought my own boat. I wanted to create my own life-long memories. It led to winning many local and regional events in open competition and a silver medal in sailing’s debut at the 1996 Paralympics in Atlanta.”

After 2008, when actual sailing became too difficult, Cook began competing in radio-controlled model sailboat racing: “This gave me a new lease on life. Sailing gave me that ever so needed reason to live.”

Cook was working on his autobiography, Time Stops For No One, at the time of his death. The proceeds were to go to charitable causes.

“Since shortly after the diagnosis, independent living has been my highest priority goal,” wrote Cook, on his website.

“Throughout my entire life, my strategy has been, and continues to be, to live as meaningful and happy a life as possible by keeping busy. Time stops for no one, hence the title of my autobiography. My greatest lesson learnt is our attitudes are within our control to change.”

Cook became an inspiration, from local recreational sailors, up to those from the Island who made it to the Olympics and Paralympics.

“He was a mentor and inspirer who loved sailing, said Stacie Louttit of Victoria, who with McRoberts, won the bronze medal in the sailing Scud class at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics.

“David was a smart sailor. He was a character. He was one of a kind. He was brave and bold.”

Cook was founder and manager of the Victoria Sailing Foundation, a registered charity since 2000, that helped youth-at-risk and people with disabilities build up their confidence. He was among 31 torchbearers selected to carry the flame through Greater Victoria ahead of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Paralympics.

“There were so many people David influenced over the years, especially young people,” said friend and fellow Royal Victoria Yacht Club sailor Gail Pohl.

“That’s because he had a really positive view on life. David would get down but he would bounce right back. He was so smart on the water and loved to compete.”

Cook is survived by wife Raewyn.

A celebration of life will be held in the summer at the Royal Victoria Yacht Club.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com