By Leah Blain
Just over a year ago Natalie Wilkie was in the hospital wondering if she would be able to ski again. Now the 16-year-old is on the Para Prospect Team (which is a step away from being on the national team) as well as the regular B.C. Nordic team.
“I got a third medal at nationals in Canmore this spring. A medal automatically makes you a team member. I’m the first para BC athlete to make the regular B.C. team. I’m really proud of that,” says Wilkie. “I’ve overcome my accident and I’m still doing good.”
Wilkie lost most of the fingers on her left hand in an accident at the Jackson Campus wood shop in June 2016. Within weeks she was right back doing her favourite sports and continued training, although she did have to relearn things and adjust.
“I was surprised at how easy it was,” she says about using a pole without her fingers. “I got an extra strap that went around my hand. One of my coaches helped design it.”
Now the snow is gone, Wilkie practises on her roller skies along with her Larch Hills teammates.
“Usually we go around South Canoe Trails and we’ve gone to Herald Park twice. It’s really bumpy and it’s kind of scary, there’s no brakes, you step to a stop.”
Like most Nordic racers, Wilkie practises both styles.
“We switch between classic and skating, you need to be good in both. I like ‘skating’ better.”
Right now she trains between nine and 12 hours a week. Much of this is on her bike. She records all of this in her exercise log which is sent to her Team BC coaches, as well as the Para Prospect Team coaches.
“I was on the school bike team this spring. I wasn’t good but it was still fun,” she says with quick smile and a little laugh. “I bike on the weekends with my family; we do some trails. I’m going to get brakes on one side and that will make it a lot easier.”
Wilkie says she has had to adapt a lot in her day-to-day life, but the accident has opened new doors for her in the para sports world.
“I have the least amount of injury possible to still be considered a para Nordic athlete. At the races I can only use one pole to make it more fair.”
Practising with one pole changes her balance and she has had to adjust to that. Wilkie says she is “pretty sure” she will get onto the para Nordic national team and the World Cup is held this December in Canmore.
Wilkie says the accident has changed her life, obviously making some things harder (‘like opening cans’), but much of it is positive.
“I’ve changed a lot. I feel I’m more open to more people. Before I had my group of friends and now I know most of the school. I’ve gotten to know more people. People I didn’t know asked me how I was. It seems like the whole town knows about it.”