The Reality behind Cool Runnings: An interview with Dudley ‘Tal’ Stokes

7 mins read

Everyone knows the 1993 cult classic film Cool Runnings. Based loosely (and I mean, very loosely) on the 1988 debut of the Jamaican bobsled team, the film follows the impossible challenges faced by the team training for a winter sport in a summer all-year-round climate.

If you don’t know Cool Runnings, one of the dramatic moments comes when spectators around the world watch as the 4-man team crashes in a particularly brutal fashion.

 Watching the video on YouTube after a rewatch of the film and its wonderfully heart-breaking ending, and still wonder how on earth they all walked away.

It’s something I spoke about with Dudley ‘Tal’ Stokes, and the impact that event, and the film, had on him.

“I didn’t like it when it first came out. It was a time in my career when we were moving from being a joke to being a really competitive team and I thought the movie didn’t do us any favours. I didn’t start appreciating the movie until my children were grown, and I watched it with them and saw it in a different light. So, I am comfortable now it’s not a documentary about me, it was a story meant to inspire, which it did, it certainly did, and it was done in a style, in a way that’s really given it legs and longevity.”

Image Credit: Dudley Stokes

The inspiring message behind such a fun and light-hearted film still hits home for many today. The crash itself had a huge impact on Dudley, but he didn’t see it from a TV perspective for quite a while.

“There was no internet. You couldn’t just search it up on Google. I see why people would be scared because it was, and it remains quite a thing. And that’s one of the things I try to convey to people in life, that things that happen to you don’t come preordained with

 their meaning. We as human beings have a unique possibility, certainly on this planet, to imbed events with their meaning with how we treat them, and that crash made the movie Cool Runnings a certainty. It certainly made my life right now; it’s opened many doors, and it’s given me huge opportunities”

Stokes went on to compete in 4 more Winter Olympics, and his team finished ahead of all American competitors in the 1994 games. It was the best finish by a black male driver in a 4-man sled and is a moment forever immortalised in Olympic history.

Something that helped Dudley in his bobsled successes was his previous training as a helicopter pilot in the Jamaica defence force air wing. However, it wasn’t necessarily the actual piloting that helped him.

“The biggest thing for me was the sort of mental discipline, control, visualisation, that piloting employed. That was the most important thing that came across for me. I honed that, and again, that’s one of the things I teach today. How, through mental relaxation and rehearsal, we can create the reality that we want. Discipline, imagination; in other words, not seeing all of the disasters that can happen to you.”

Image Credit: Dudley Stokes

Discipline and doubling down is something that is part of Dudley’s DNA. He struggled with depression in his younger years but has since gotten it under control, stating that he hasn’t struggled with it again in any real way.

Sam Bock, part of the Canadian coaching team was part of the massive change in his life and someone that still inspires him today. His mother and father also inspire him daily, particularly for the personal sacrifices they made when raising himself and his siblings. The couple drifted apart once their youngest had left home, but there was never a moment that the issues ever spilled over into the children’s realities.

The purpose is what keeps Dudley going, and his purpose is to help people take care of themselves and become their best versions.

“Take care of yourself, put yourself in a position where you can achieve your peak performance. When you can consistently perform at your peak, what happens is that your peak goes up. Over time, you become a high performer, which means you’re consistently achieving your peak performance. That’s the message I want to bring to young people, especially young people who consider themselves to be disadvantaged.”

Endings are not the end in Dudley’s mind. They are his purpose. The realisation of his morality is the source of his outlook after Cool Runnings, but in a way that keeps him going. He thinks of his funeral and how he wants to be remembered.

“I want my wife and my children to outlive me, and to be there, and to be financially secure, and for them to be successful. I want them to have good lives of purpose. I want people to think of me as someone who tried hard things and lived hard till the end. That they smile at that, they laugh at it, that there’s some humour in the situation. But that they also know there is a level of seriousness and that people know and think that I was there when they needed me.”

“It’s so important to start with the end. Think of your funeral because that’s coming. Some people find that discomforting or depressing, but that’s just a simple fact of life. So, what’s it going to be like?”

Image Credit: Dudley Stokes

Featured Image Credit: Dudley Stokes

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3rd year English and Journalism student, passionate about social change, Formala 1 and everything in between.

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