Wilkie returns home with three medals in tow

Paralympic champion returns home with a gold, silver and bronze from the 2018 PyeongChang games

An enthusiastic reception greeted 17-year-old Paralympic champion Natalie Wilkie at the Kelowna International Airport on Monday.

Exhausted from the long flight from Korea, Wilkie didn’t let it show as she hugged more than a dozen friends and family who had made the trip from Salmon Arm to welcome her home — even her dog made an appearance.

As the youngest member of the Canadian Paralympic Team, Wilkie is bringing home three medals, a gold, silver and bronze, from the PyeongChang games.

“I went into the Games thinking it would be more of an experience and my big focus would be on Beijing 2022,” explained Wilkie. “So I just went out and skied my best and I won three medals which is awesome.”

The City of Salmon Arm will be celebrating Wilkie’s accomplishments with a parade through the downtown area on a city fire truck starting at 11:30 a.m. on Friday, March 23. Wilkie will travel through downtown to the city hall plaza, where she will be honoured by city officials. Everyone is welcome.

The Grade 11 student said she didn’t know her place during some of the races due to the interval starts, and instead focused on the fact she was skiing against some of the world’s top professional athletes.

“My first race was the 15-kilometre race and I hadn’t really done that one much, but the last three races are ones I have been doing all year,” she said.

Wilkie’s first medal of the Paralympics was a bronze in the 1.5-km sprint race, followed by her gold medal win in the 7.5-km race and a silver-medal finish the next day as part of the Canadian relay team.

For her gold medal in the 7.5- km standing race, Wilkie said she couldn’t believe her time when she saw the clock after the first lap and, when she crossed the finish line, she knew she had placed.

Related link: Salmon Arm community cheers on Natalie Wilkie as she wins first gold medal

Wilkie’s mother Karin Huster is still in disbelief about her daughter’s achievements, saying she did not see this coming.

“It’s unbelievable, nobody expected that,” Huster explained. “She went to her first para-Olympics as a 17-year-old who was going to feel out what it was like and learn from the experience and here she gets a gold medal.”

Related link: Teenager bounces back

The para-nordic skier is now being compared to Brian McKeever, Canada’s most-decorated Winter Paralympian, something Wilkie is a tad shy about.

“I mean, I guess they are comparing me because I have a long career ahead of me,” she laughed.

Indeed, she does have a long career and the gumption to carry it out. After losing her fingers in a wood-shop incident at school, Wilkie jumped back on her skis just two weeks later. Since then, she has continued competing in both traditional and para-skiing events, recently placing fourth in the mass-start 7-km race at the 2018 Teck B.C. Championships.

“It (skiing) really helped me get through my accident,” Wilkie explained. “It helped to normalize things after my accident and make everything seem OK.”

Related link: Paralympian Natalie Wilkie races to the podium

Another reason Wilkie believes she has been successful is that the support from Salmon Arm has been overwhelming.

“The whole community has just stepped up and supported me in my journey. I don’t think I would have had the same feeling going into the Games had they not been so supportive.”

In fact, many of her biggest fans in the community gathered to watch her claim the gold in the 7.5-km race at a live-viewing party in the SASCU Recreation Centre Auditorium. The party culminated in raucous applause and ear-splitting cheers from a crowd brimming with hometown pride, carrying signs emblazoned with the words ‘Go Natalie Go.’

Jennifer Henrie, who helped to organize the viewing party, says: “I think she completely surprised everybody. She’s such a down-to-earth kid and it’s amazing to see her take it all in stride.”

And, Wilkie’s mother agrees.

“Salmon Arm and Larch Hills are known for producing really good skiers, even at the local level,” said Huster.

Now, Wilkie will return to life in Salmon Arm but she has two weeks of spring break to ease back into the groove of high school.


@SalmonArm
newsroom@saobserver.net

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

 

Triple Paralympic medallist Natalie Wilkie greets her dog at the Kelowna Airport on Monday, March 19. (Douglas David Farrow photo)

The home town came out in force to cheer on Paralympic skier Natalie Wilkie at the SASCU Recreation Centre as she raced her way to the gold medal in the Women’s 7.5km Classic, Standing at the 2018 PyeongChang Paralympics. Wilkie finished the race with a final time of 22:12.2 while fellow Canadian Emily Young finished in the bronze medal spot with a time of 22:13.9. (Jodi Brak/Salmon Arm Observer)

The room exploded with cheer as Natalie Wilkie crossed the finish line and officials confirmed her gold medal placement. (Jodi Brak/Salmon Arm Observer)

Just Posted

City budget 2019: Six new cops approved for Kelowna RCMP

The new officers will be paid for using savings generated by leaves and vacancies

Scholarship smooths road ahead for Okanagan College transfer student

27 students from Okanagan College received awards from the Irving K. Barber Society

Crash stalls traffic on Benvoulin, vehicle flipped on its side

Early reports from the scene note traffic is backed up in both directions along Benvoulin near Byrns Road.

Your guide to winter light ups around the Okanagan

From Vernon to Summerland, with a stop in Kelowna, we’ve found some activities for you to enjoy

Update: BC RCMP confirm multiple businesses received email threats throughout province

Police Dog Service on scene at Penticton Honda and Penticton Hyundai

Okanagan lawyer honoured by appointment to Queen’s Counsel

Only seven per cent of practising B.C. lawyers are appointed

Missing man last seen in Shuswap

Red Deer RCMP would like public’s help locating elderly man with dementia last observed in Sicamous

$12K awarded to atheist family who oppose Christmas, Hanukkah in B.C. classroom

Gary Mangel,May Yasue said holidays, Remembrance Day and Valentine’s Day not appropriate in preschool

Aboriginal poet faces backlash for calling out NHL-themed totem poles

Rebecca Thomas says she received backlash for asking a drugstore chain to remove NHL merchandise

No plans yet for free WiFi on BC Transit buses

BC Transit says they are monitoring the roll-out of free WiFi on Translink vehicles

Some Kotex tampons recalled in Canada and U.S.

In some cases, tampon users sought medical attention “to remove tampon pieces left in the body.”

Sex-assault squad investigated eight incidents at Toronto all-boys’ school

The interim president of a Roman Catholic all-boys school rocked by student-on-student abuse allegations said the football program was cancelled for next year.

Coal power in Canada must disappear by the end of 2029, new regulations say

Canada has significantly cut its dependence on coal largely due to the closure of all coal plants in Ontario.

Most Read