By: Jennifer Lukas, CTVOlympics.ca Staff
04/03/2012 12:19 PM
- Before she started winning Commonwealth medals, before she qualified and competed in six events at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, and before she started shattering Canadian records, Julia Wilkinson was just a local kid in Stratford, Ont., training in a minuscule four-lane, 25-yard pool.
"I think that I wasn't very good at the beginning. My mom tells this story about driving home from a swim meet and my sister had won a bunch of ribbons," Wilkinson told CTVOlympics a little over a year ago. "I said to my mom, 'Mom, everybody wins a medal at one time, right?'"
Wilkinson's mom, Mary, is an eighth-grade teacher.
"She said to me, 'Well, no honey. Some people, they win the ribbon of life.'" The 24 year old laughs as she remembers.
"I was like, eight. I don't understand metaphors at eight. But I just think that's funny now, because she didn't want to make me an empty promise.
Eighteen years later, Wilkinson has won her share of ribbons. Decked out in a pair of flashy gold Ugg boots and gold nail polish at this week's Canadian Olympic swimming trials in Montreal, she has embodied the colour, winning three out of four races in commanding style.
The trials came close to becoming "The Julia Wilkinson Show," as the utility swimmer qualified for four Olympic events -- more than any other swimmer on the team.
With the women's 100-metre backstroke, 100m freestyle, 4x100m freestyle and 200m individual medley events on her Olympic schedule if she wants them, Wilkinson's total could be just two shy of the six events she swam four years ago in Beijing.
"Swimming all these events is not as hard as four years ago," Wilkinson said on Saturday. "Four years ago I was so up and down and not sleeping. Now I feel great... It's experience and I learned that when you have a bad or great race you have to shake it off and move on."
Wilkinson no longer trains in her little home-town pool in Stratford. A three-time Commonwealth medallist and a 2008 Olympian, she has moved on to state-of-the-art facilities in Victoria, B.C.
But she remains close with her family: Mary, her dad Mark, and her older sister, Jane. She travels home as often as she can, preferring her family's company during holidays to European travels or a beach chair in the sand.
Jane even helped to inspire Wilkinson to get into the sport.
"She's the reason I started swimming, because she was really good. And I remember going to her swim banquet when I was six and she was eight," Wilkinson said. "She won a bunch of awards and I was really bored. I was like, 'I want to be part of this too.'
"She's always been there for me because she actually gets it. She really does. She swam in Stratford too... She's the only person who really knows what it took for me to get to where I'm at."
Even Wilkinson didn't recognize her own accomplishments when she was young. As a teenager, she won a medal at junior nationals, but didn't quite understand what it meant.
"I was kind of looking around and I didn't realize that I was at a disadvantage," Wilkinson said. "I didn't know what the girls from Etobicoke had, or the girls from Nepean. Obviously, I saw their big pools, but I didn't really know what that represented in terms of me and my four-lane, 25-yard pool that was 92 degrees every day."
Instead, it was Wilkinson's work ethic that brought her through. She swam for the Aggies at Texas A&M University, where she majored in communication. Then she moved out West to join Island Swimming and the Victoria Academy of Swimming to train under Canada's head Olympic coach, Randy Bennett.
"I can't remember not wanting to go to the Olympics," Wilkinson said of the dream that brought her all the way from Stratford to her second Olympic Games in London 2012.
"I can't remember that ever not being my goal. When you're in grade 3 and grade 4 and they say, 'what's your goal?' Write it on yellow construction paper and tape it on the wall. Mine was always, 'I want to go to the Olympics,'" she said.
As for Wilkinson's mom, Mary recognizes that her daughter might just be the type of person to win a few different varieties of ribbon.
"I am very, very proud of her, more so for the work that she does in the pool to accomplish the goal, whether it's a time or a goal of going to the Olympics," Mary said from the bleachers in Montreal on Saturday.
"I am proud of her self-discipline and yes, I am proud of her achievements. But my strongest feeling is I am thrilled for her that she has achieved her dream of going to the Olympics twice and I just wish every mother's child could achieve their dream and have their dream come true.
"That would be wonderful, but my daughter was fortunate enough to get it."