Student by day, rower by night and adventurer in his off-time, this 21 year-old has a lifetime worth of accomplishments to his name

“When I first started at university, I spoke to my head of department. He told me, ‘you’ve got 24 hours in a day: eight hours for sleeping, eight hours for rowing and eight hours for working.’ It’s always in the back of my mind. You’ve got to be strict and self-disciplined. But when you strike the balance well, you feel like you’re exceling in everything, you feel on top of the world,” Cook says.

Cook’s rowing career began as a family affair. Timothy Cook, James’ father, first picked up an oar in his thirties and after falling in love with the sport, he began a junior programme at their local rowing club. One by one his three sons Ollie, James and Robert got involved. While it may have started as an ordinary school rowing experience for these three brothers, it became an incredible adventure.

“My last year at school I qualified for the Junior World Championships and I thought that was the best I’d ever be. But I took a year away from the rowing and I remember really, really missing it. So I thought I’d give it another year. It just kept going from there,” Cook says.
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1,000km row down the Zambezi River in Zambia, which raised more than $40,000 for the Village Water organisation

After a gap year in New Zealand, Cook returned to London to start his course in Mechanical Engineering at the University College of London. Always fascinated by “how things work” he felt this was the best way to explore his passion and to challenge himself. With a course load that requires more than 50 hours study per week, Cook quickly realised that self-discipline, time management and balance would be vital to success.  “There are probably a lot of people who do it much better than me,” he says, laughing. “But you have to make sure that nothing becomes too big or too small - so far it is going well.”

During his university holidays, Cook dedicates his time to several charitable projects. In particular, he has devoted many hours working in Zambia. In 2011 he participated in Row Zambezi, an expedition for university students from Great Britain and Zambia. Together, they rowed 1,000km down the Zambezi River and raised $40,000 for Village Water, a non-profit organisation that provides clean water and sanitation solutions in Zambian villages. The challenging and trying adventure provided these students with the opportunity to truly communicate with one another.

“The difference is that you’re not just seeing where people live, you’re communicating with them and it changed my entire viewpoint. Coming back to London I realised how much we take things for granted,” Cook says.

Communication and teamwork allowed these young rowers to successfully navigate the Zambezi River where crocodiles, hippos, leeches, snakes and more lurked in the waters just below their boats. For Cook, the risks were a small price to pay for the experience he calls incredibly moving. “From doing it, it makes me want to do it again and again and again,” he says.

Student by day, rower by night and adventurer in his off-time, this 21-year-old has a lifetime worth of accomplishments to his name. Yet he was shocked and humbled when the University of London Boat Club (ULBC) chose to nominate him for the Parmigiani Spirit Award. “You don’t always take the time to reflect on the things you’ve done,” Cook explains. “Sitting down to talk about the application was such a rewarding experience.”

The real joy came when he found out he had won. Too nervous to open the email, Cook asked his girlfriend to read it out loud. Shocked and thrilled by the news, Cook left the room he now calls his ‘Parmigiani Room’ and cycled in the pouring rain to the Parmigiani Atelier on Mount Street in London. Looking through the window he reflected on what this award would mean for his club and for Row Zambezi.

“What is so cool about the Award is that, more than anything, it’s an award for my university rowing club and on a personal level, it has given invaluable publicity to my charity Row Zambezi,” he says.  
"You’ve got to be strict and self-disciplined. But when you strike the balance well, you feel like you’re exceling in everything, you feel on top of the world,” Cook says

At a ceremony held on 31 October 2013 in London, Cook was presented with a hand-crafted Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda 1950 watch and his club, ULBC, will receive a custom-made top-of-the-line Filippi racing eight.

“It is the best present you could give your club,” Cook says. This boat will allow ULBC to teach and inspire more young athletes. Rowing gave Cook self-confidence and a clear set of goals to achieve. As a captain and a coach, he hopes to help others have these same experiences.

“What I have learned is if there are things you want to do, just go out and give it a shot,” says Cook. “I am constantly proving myself wrong. With any sport, small steps are the way to achieving something really big.”

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