This is the seventeenth in a series of articles profiling known out and proud Olympic athletes who are openly LGBT. The New Civil Rights Movement will publish one article each day as we move into the London 2012 Olympics.
London 2012 Olympian Natalie Cook of Australia first started playing beach volleyball in 1993 and turned professional just one year later.
Cook (with playing partner Kerri Ann Pottharst) won a bronze medal at the 1996 Atlanta Games — the first time that beach volleyball had been an Olympic sport. In the same year, the pair won a silver medal at the world championships, and came first in the World Tour Event in Japan.
Cook and Pottharst played together again in 2000. They finished third in the World Tour Events and then went on to win the gold medal in the Sydney Olympics. After their Olympic win, the pair were awarded the Order of Australia, Australia’s highest honor and were included in the Fédération Internationale de Volleyball’s Team of the Decade.
Natalie Cook teamed up with Nicole Sanderson in a quest for more gold in Athens. After a 2003 World Championship Bronze medal, Natalie suffered a serious shoulder injury. “Expecting to win an Olympic Gold medal with only one arm was my biggest mistake. I really did still believe we could do it.” After damaging her shoulder further she continued to play, losing narrowly to the USA in the match for the Bronze resulting in a fourth place finish.
For the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics, Cook partnered with Tamsin Hinchley Barnett, finishing fifth overall. And now she has partnered again with Barnett for the London 2012 Olympic games and is about to make history by becoming the first woman to make five Australian Olympic teams.
“As an eight-year old kid I wanted to go to the Olympics, as a swimmer. I never thought I would make it,” Natalie said. “When the Sydney Olympics were announced I thought I’d be going to two. Never did I imagine that I could be going to five.”
Cook has been in a relationship with her partner, Canadian beach volleyball player Sarah Maxwell, for eleven years. They were “unofficially married” in an intimate New Zealand ceremony three years ago. The couple decided on a Celtic hand-fastening ritual for the ceremony; they exchanged necklaces handed down by their mothers instead of rings. Australia does not recognize same-sex marriage, but Canada does.
“I’m already married. I’m living as a married person,” Cook told the Daily Telegraph. “But if gay marriage is legalized, it would be great for this country.” Cook and Maxwell were happy last year when Queensland MPs voted in favor of legalizing same-sex civil unions. But she believes it is time for the nation to go one step further and legalize same-sex marriage.
“I’m committed to Sarah and I say we’re married,” Cook stated. “That’s not allowed to be said because it’s not legal. Part of the reason the fight for gay marriage is so strong is because if Sarah is involved in a car accident, legally I’m not allowed in as her partner. They are the human rights issues the [gay rights'] movements fight for.” Cook says her motto is “NO LIMITS and always believe in the power of your dreams!” She’ll be going after her dream of the gold in London.
The women’s Olympic beach volleyball tournament will be played July 28-August 12 in a specially created stadium near Buckingham Palace.
But Cook also made news yesterday. “Cook is planning to retire from beach volleyball after the London Olympics,” Gay Star News just reported:
As reported by Wide World of Sports, the 37-year-old’s Olympic career which stretches nearly two decades ended on Wednesday (1 August) with her fifth and final games.
‘The mind, and the body, needs a rest. Not a rest that I’m coming back from, but a rest forever,’ Cook said yesterday (2 August).
Cook and her partner Tamsin Hinchley played three matches in London, and exited without a win, with Cook blaming the unpredictable British weather.
Follow our series: “2012 Olympics: Who Are The LGBT Athletes?” as we profile all the out LGBT athletes playing in the London 2012 Olympic games.
Image, top, via FacebookStuart Wilber. Photo by Mathew Ryan Williams
Stuart Wilber believes that living life openly as a Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender or Allied person is the most powerful kind of activism. Shortly after meeting his partner in Chicago in 1977, he opened a gallery named In a Plain Brown Wrapper, where he exhibited cutting edge work by leading artists; art that dealt with sexuality and gender identification. In the late 1980’s when they moved to San Clemente, CA in Orange County, life as an openly gay couple became a political act. They moved to Seattle 16 years ago and married in Canada a few weeks after British Columbia legalized same-sex marriage. Although legally married in some countries, they are only considered domestic partners in Washington State. Equality continues to elude him.
We invite you to sign up for our new mailing list, and subscribe to The New Civil Rights Movement via email or RSS.