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NAAR Staffer is an Olympic Hopeful

Megan Cooke laughs when she is described as a “rising star,” even if the Olympic hopeful is on the cover of her sport's national magazine.

Cooke, a part-time staff member at NAAR's Princeton office, is a member of the U.S. National Rowing Team and trains at Mercer County Park in West Windsor, NJ. She is featured on the cover of the February edition of Rowing News, which describes the 24-year-old Bay area native as “rising star” in the rowing world.

But Cooke said the real stars are the families faced with autism that she has begun to know and work with in her job as an assistant supporting NAAR's Walk F.A.R. for NAAR events in central and northern New Jersey.

“Working with families that face autism everyday really puts things into perspective,” said Cooke, a 2002 graduate and rowing stand-out at the University of California at Berkley. “Spending so many hours working on a sport or developing a specific rowing technique makes it easy to loose sight of what many people must live with everyday. The parents and children we work with at NAAR are truly extraordinary.”

Cooke came to New Jersey in the Summer of 2003 and trained independently before making the U.S. National Rowing Team in 2004. In September 2004, she competed in the World Championships in Spain after narrowly missing a spot on the U.S. team that competed in the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens.

Now, Cooke has her sights set on competing in the 2008 games in Beijing.

Her typical day is long. Morning practice begins at 7 a.m. and ends at 10 a.m. She works at NAAR from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Evening practice begins at 5 p.m. and ends at 8 p.m.

Despite the long days, Cooke said working at NAAR helps her deal with being far from home.

“At the end of the day, I really appreciate knowing that we are helping families that are struggling with a serious medical condition,” she said. “Being so far from home, I feel very good about trying to make an impact here in New Jersey.”

When asked what her post-Olympic plans, Cooke speaks about returning home to northern California.

“Perhaps I can help bring NAAR to the Bay area,” she said.