On deck with Olympian Julia Wilkinson
At age eight, most children are writing and drawing pictures in their school journals about how they want to be doctors, lawyers, scientists or rock stars. Some kids write about wanting to be the next Michael Jordan or Michael Phelps. At that age, the sky’s the limit.
Julia Wilkinson was one of those eight-year-old big dreamers; she imagined herself competing on the world stage as Canada's next big thing. Her world stage just happened to smell like chlorine and have five interconnected rings behind it.
A native of Stratford, Ontario, Wilkinson started swimming because it was what her big sister did. Wilkinson set her goal high—to be among the best athletes in the world and compete at an Olympic Games. Thirteen years later, Wilkinson accomplished this by earning herself a spot on the Canadian swim team competing at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games where she placed seventh in the 200-metre individual medley—one of the top Canadian performances in the pool.
Now 24, Wilkinson is a communications graduate from Texas A&M University, National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) 100-yard freestyle champion, Commonwealth Games medallist, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) blogger and role model for the next generation of Canadian swimmers, and is itching to add another milestone to her already extensive list of accomplishments: Olympic medallist.
Chelsey Gotell, three-time Paralympian and multiple world-record holder, caught up with Wilkinson as she entered her next phase of training leading into the London 2012 Olympic Games.
What is your most memorable sporting moment?
In my last year at Texas A&M, I won NCAAs in the 100-yard freestyle, which was the first time someone from Texas A&M had won an NCAA championship in swimming. I went into the race 100 per cent believing that I could win it. To get my hand on the wall first and accomplish something that I’ve thought about and trained for, for so long, was a really memorable experience. The victory wasn’t just for me . . . I wanted to win it for my coach and for my team.
What do you love most about swimming?
I am a competitive person, so I love the rush of racing and beating people in the pool. I love the feeling of knowing that all of the hard work I’ve put in was worth it. You can have 100 bad days in a row, but if you have one good day and one good race, it can make those 100 bad days so worthwhile. It is such a powerful feeling and it is what motivates me every day.
What has been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome, and looking back on it, how has it shaped the person you are today?
Definitely getting shoulder surgery after Beijing. I had shoulder pain at the end of 2007 and all of 2008 but never gave myself time off because I had so many major competitions that year. The physical recovery was hard to overcome, but the hardest part was dealing with the idea that having surgery might be the end of my swimming career. It made me realize that almost everything in my life was connected to swimming, and when it was taken away I felt like I had no identity or goals outside of “swimmer Julia.” The experience made me discover who I was without swimming. I learned how to play the guitar and found other things that interested me, and not because I am good at them but because I just enjoy doing them.
What is your favorite post-workout snack?
I know this is boring, but I really like granola, plain yogurt and strawberries.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I really want to be involved in the sports media industry, through writing, television or radio. At whatever point I retire from swimming, I want to still be involved in the swimming world. I think there is still a lot that can be done to make swimming in Canada better and I want to be part of that.
Do you have any pre-race superstitions?
Before big competitions I always get my nails done and I also always wear the same green sports bra during the entire competition. I managed to tear the strap at World Championships last summer and one of the swimmer’s moms sewed it back together.
What are your goals for London?
My goal is to bring home a medal. That has been my goal since I decided to keep swimming after the Beijing Olympics. I have been in an Olympic final and it was amazing, but I didn’t keep swimming to just go back to the Olympics to get the team tracksuit. The reason I keep swimming is to have that chance to be on the podium representing Canada.
Click here to follow Julia’s blog as she gears up for the London 2012 Olympic Games.