Petro-Canada – The Bond – Natalie Wilkie
Cross-country skier Natalie Wilkie and her coach, Abbi May, didn’t plan on learning how to ski with one pole instead of the usual two. A horrible high school accident forced them to adapt to a difficult, new reality, but it barely slowed them down.
“Near the end of the school year in 2016, Wilkie lost nearly all four fingers on her left hand in a woodshop class accident.” said her coach Abbi May. (right) Yet what outweighs this high school nightmare is how quickly Wilkie returned from the trauma. After surgery, she went back to her school in Salmon Arm, British Columbia the following week, and attended a ski training camp soon after.
While this resiliency impresses May, Wilkie says it was her coach and teammates who stepped up. “They were all super supportive, bringing me back into skiing,” said Wilkie. After the accident, her teammates brought over dinners and her coaches went to work designing a strap so she could hold her pole again. Wilkie says skiing was the distraction she needed. “It sort of made everything feel normal again.”
“Abbi tries hard to make our training fun and interesting, and gives us lots of opportunities for personal and team growth” said Wilkie.
“It was absolutely amazing that she could have this injury and then go on to take a leap and do better than she had ever done before.” said coach Abbi May.
Wilkie has part of her index finger and entire thumb, so she can pinch the pole and has a strap that was designed specifically for her. In para cross-country skiing, only one pole is allowed and athletes cannot switch hands.
Coach May worked on her para-nordic coaching certification while she and Wilkie re-learned everything together especially that start sequence.
“We just spend lots of time skiing together talking about technique,” said May, who is an experienced skier herself and also drops to one pole so she can feel what Wilkie is going through. Wilkie jokes that she’s adapting quicker and May agrees. “I skied behind her with my two poles, watching her technique to see how she was doing, and it was hard to keep up,” says May with a laugh.
And it’s not just her coach she is pushing. Wilkie had her best season ever after the accident. Competing with two poles, she won a bronze medal at nationals in the juvenile girls category. “It was absolutely amazing that she could have this injury and then go on to take a leap and do better than she had ever done before,” said May.
At a World Para-Nordic Skiing World Cup in Canmore, Alberta on December 9, 2017 Wilkie qualified for the Paralympic Games in the Women Middle distance Standing classification and will represent Canada in Pyeonchang, South Korea only 18 months following her injury.
After crossing the line Wilkie was met by her mother Karin who said it was an absolutely devastating injury for Natalie and in the days following the injury they wondered how it would change her life. But she was happy to explain that amazingly it has not stopped her daughter from achieving anything.