A sixteen-year-old Salmon Arm girl will be skiing alongside the best in the world at the Winter Paralympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.
Natalie Wilkie has not let a serious injury to her left hand sustained in the Salmon Arm Secondary Jackson Campus wood shop in June 2016 slow her down on the cross-country trail whether she’s training with the Larch Hills Nordics race team or with the Para-Nordic national team.
Wilkie said she will compete in a variety of distances in both skating and classic style at the games which run from March 8 to 18.
Fourth-place finishes in three events at the Para-Nordic World Cup event held in Canmore in early December were enough to qualify Wilkie for the Paralympic team.
Wilkie’s coach with the Larch Hills Junior Ski Team Abbi May said Wilkie’s accomplishments are especially exciting because she has never coached anyone at the national-team level before.
“It is very exciting for everyone, as not only has she qualified, but she has also demonstrated that she is competitive with the top para-skiers in the world,” May said.
The gravity of her achievements are beginning to sink in for Wilkie, who will be one of the youngest competitors skiing in PyeongChang.
“It’s a weird thought going to the Paralympics when I’m only 16,” she said.
Wilkie also competes as an able-bodied skier and when she does, she uses two poles. Her training leading up to the games will focus on the use of one pole — a requirement for para-skiing. She said national para-nordic team coach Robin McKeever recommend she ski with one pole at least half of the time now and increase that amount leading up to the games.
Balancing her demanding training schedule and travelling to compete with her usual school obligations has been a challenge for Wilkie; she expects to miss about a week of school to compete in PyeongChang.
“It’s a bit of a tight schedule,” she said.
Wilkie chose not to attend another world cup event in Germany because she wants to focus on PyeongChang, not do too much travelling.
Once in Korea, Wilkie says she doesn’t expect to have much time for sightseeing or touring.
Wilkie had a chance to meet teammates Emily Young and Brittany Hudak at the world cup event in Canmore. Young lives in Kelowna, so Wilkie said they planned to train together, but their schedules haven’t allowed for it yet.
Wilkie said above all she is thankful for the support of the community helping her overcome her injury and providing her encouragement as she chases her Paralympic dreams.