Far from allowing an accident to sap her spirit to succeed, Natalie Wilkie of Salmon Arm has solidified her place as one of the most talented skiers in Canada and earned a spot on Team Canada for the 2018 Paralympics in Pyeongchang.
The outstanding young skier, who lost most of the fingers on her left hand in 2016 after an accident in shop class, never gave up on her passion for skiing. She still competes in both standard and para-skiing events, earning top placings in national competitions despite whatever odds might be against her.
After just one race in the qualifiers for the Paralympics, Wilkie came within 70 per cent of the winner’s time. This stellar showing proved to be enough to land her a spot on Team Canada and an invite to the Pyeonchang Paralympics.
“I was pretty excited, it’s not every day you get to go to the Paralympics,” Wilkie says. “I found out after my first race… my coach came up to me and told me I qualified… That was pretty exciting.”
Wilkie says she has been training exceptionally hard in preparation for the Paralympics, practicing her single-pole skiing technique and building endurance by skiing nearly every day.
In the wake of her qualifying for the Paralympics, the community has been behind her all the way. Well-wishers organized a letter-writing campaign on her behalf to collect notes of encouragement for her to take to Korea. There is also a plan in the works to schedule a viewing party to watch her event in the Paralympics.
“I’ve been really surprised by how involved the community is in my journey and sending me off,” Wilkie says. “The community is really into this, it’s pretty exciting for me.”
The trip to Korea will be Wilkie’s second time travelling outside of Canada and her first visit to Asia. She is excited at the prospect of exploring somewhere new, though she will be taking along something special to remind her of home while she is across the ocean.
“My sister actually just made this clay medal in school that I’m going to take along,” she says. “I thought that was really nice of her, it’s going to be like my good-luck charm.”
Wilkie began her journey to Korea on March 4, accompanied by her mother, Karin Huster, and her coach Kate Boyd.
In advance of this opportunity, the young skier would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to her hometown for the immense support and good vibes sent her way after news broke that she would be representing Canada at the Paralympic Games.
“Thanks for being so involved in helping me on my way, I don’t think I would be as excited to do this if I didn’t know I had everyone behind me cheering me on and watching me on TV,” she says. “It makes a big difference.”
Wilkie will be competing in the 15km endurance race March 12 at 8:15 p.m., the 1.5km sprint race on March 14 at 7 p.m. and the 7.5km race on March 17 at 7:45 p.m. All times listed for the races are Pacific Standard Time, not the time in Korea.