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Natalie Wilkie: Bow Valley's Beijing Bound Athletes

“I’m not a little 17-year-old going in and not knowing what to expect or even the enormity of the competition I’m about to do."

Natalie Wilkie, Para nordic skiing, three-time Paralympics medallist

Not everyone gets to make a first impression quite like Natalie Wilkie.

Hiding behind a mane of long blonde hair, the unsuspecting 17-year-old went from being the baby of Canada’s Para nordic ski team to a stone cold baby faced assassin before everyone even knew what was going on.

Winning gold, silver and bronze medals in a glorious Paralympics debut in 2018 PyeongChang, it’s hard not to imagine more big things in Wilkie’s future.

With something to prove back then, she refused to let a horrific accident dictate her skiing career.

Now 21, the 2018 breakthrough Para athlete is on the brink of a second Paralympics and is shaking off an annoying skiing slump at the right time in preparation for her title defences.

Wilkie’s skiing is on point and is racing faster than ever, finding podiums on the world cup. But this year, there’s something new to prove.

“I want to go into this Games and do as well as I did in the last Games and obviously that puts a lot of pressure on myself,” said Wilkie.

“I’m not a little 17-year-old going in and not knowing what to expect or even the enormity of the competition I’m about to do. Now it’s more like I know what to expect and going to be fighting hard to be there again.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Natalie (@natalie_wilkie_)

Her maturity grew too, Wilkie added, who has a greater appreciation of the magnitude of the Paralympics. She’d be the first to say her mind was focused on able bodied skiing prior to PyeongChang and she was uncertain about competing.

“The Paralympics, the true meaning like how important they were, hadn’t really sunk in at that point,” said Wilkie. 

“When I went there, I wanted to do my best and to see where I stood in comparison to my teammates and the rest of the world. I ended up winning some medals, which was actually a total shock and surprise and just pretty amazing from just a year and a half turnaround to go from having an accident to being a Paralympic champion.”

Wilkie was maimed in a terrifying wood shop class mishap at school, losing four fingers on her left hand.

She was just 15 when the spinning metal blade chewed into her skin and pulled her hand into the machine. Trapped for an hour, Wilkie saw a faint light of her skiing future dimming into darkness.

It took an hour for Wilkie to be freed. By then, an air ambulance helicopter was waiting to fly her to Kelowna, where the nearest major medical centre was located.

Wilkie is grateful she didn’t die that day.

“I was fully there. I was totally in shock. I didn’t feel a lot of pain, but I remember being super hysterical because that was a moment I realized I wouldn’t be skiing with two poles again,” said Wilkie. “At that point, I didn’t know a lot about Para nordic skiing or the Paralympics, so I literally thought my skiing career was done and that was a pretty upsetting time.”

From Salmon Arm, B.C., she’s lover of horses – she has five on her family farm: Munchkin, Majestic, Jasper, Picasso and Lightning.

You’d be hard pressed to find someone from the little lake town in the Shuswap who isn’t big into skiing.

As soon as Wilkie could walk, you best believe she had skies on her feet after the first snowfall. Getting competitive, she started seeing success on provincial and national levels.

After her accident, Wilkie became determined to prove she could still throw down for years to come.

“I feel like people are always going to know me as the baby of the team – the person who came in at 17 and joined the national team,” said Wilkie. 

“I hope I have a long career in this sport. I’m already looking to 2026 and beyond. I’m not sure if she’ll be the next Brian McKeever, but she’ll see what
happens.”


Jordan Small

About the Author: Jordan Small

Jordan Small joined the Outlook in 2014 and covers the vast world of sports in the Bow Valley. A Barrie, Ont. native, he also wrote for RMO's Mountain Guide section and the MD of Bighorn beat.
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