Julia Wilkinson announces retirement

swim canada-2

Nathan White

February 15, 2013, Stratford, Ont. –  After a six-year national team career that saw her represent Canada at two Olympic Games, Julia Wilkinson is retiring from competitive swimming.

The Stratford, Ont., native, triple Commonwealth Games medallist and holder of six Canadian records made the announcement late Thursday night on her website, www.juliawilkinson.com

In a post titled “Searching for a New Podium” Wilkinson explained how she wrestled with the decision after swimming in four events at the 2012 Olympics in London.

“I’m definitely going to miss wearing that Canada cap. That is the most proud thing I’ve ever done in my life,” Wilkinson said in an interview with swimming.ca. “I got to the point where I knew in my heart I didn’t have it in me to keep training at the level I would have to train to be what I consider successful. I wanted to walk away with pride and I wanted to walk away on my own terms so that’s what I’m doing.”

Wilkinson came agonizingly close to competing in the women’s 100-metre backstroke final at the 2012 Olympics, finishing ninth by .09 in the semifinals. She also came 13th in 100-m freestyle, and swam in the 4×100-m freestyle and medley relays, finishing 11th and 12th.

“She’s been such a bundle of energy for our team. She kept the team upbeat in so many ways. She’ll be surely missed,” said Swimming Canada CEO Pierre Lafontaine.

Wilkinson has an Olympic tattoo with a maple leaf above it, signifying her pride in representing Canada. After London, she added the Eli Young Band song lyric “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” to the tattoo to represent her mixed feelings with her Olympic results.

“I’d do it all just to come ninth again because it was worth it even though it broke my heart,” Wilkinson said. “I know in my heart I did everything I could to be the best. That helps me sleep at night.”

Wilkinson also swam for Canada at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, finishing seventh in the 200-m individual medley and breaking a Canadian record in the process. She still holds the national marks in 50-m backstroke, and short-course 100-m, as well as a share in four Canadian long-course relay records.

Her career highlights include winning three medals at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, where she finished third in the 200-m IM, 100-m back and 4×100-m medley relay. She also lists her dominant performances at the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Trials, winning three events at each, among her fondest swimming memories.

Wilkinson, whose writing has been featured by CBC.ca and SwimNews.com, hopes to pursue a career in the media. The graduate of Texas A&M is exploring her options for a graduate program in journalism or communications.

“I’ve always loved anything that involves some sort of media. When I was a kid I would make up little fake newspapers and put them under my mother’s bedroom door, or make a radio show on her boom box and force her to listen to that,” Wilkinson said. “Every goal I’ve had has always come second to swimming. I’m looking forward to seeing what I can do when swimming is not the be all, end all.”

She says her experience in swimming has served her well for the next step in life.

“I was a really shy little kid and I had really low self-esteem when I went into high school. I had a tough time being comfortable in my own skin. When I tell people that now they laugh because I come across as confident and happy with who I am. A lot of that came from swimming: setting goals, being able to achieve them and feel good about myself,” she said. “That’s a message I want to pass on to other people, how important sport is in helping kids, especially young girls, figure out who they are, find their self-esteem and be confident.”

Wilkinson added that she will miss her teammates, who she considers “family,” and expressed her thanks to a long list of people who have helped her throughout her swimming career. Among a long list of people she named in her website post, coach Randy Bennett is one that stands out in particular. She swam at Bennett’s Victoria Academy of Swimming after completing her time at Texas A&M.

“I’m so appreciative of Swimming Canada, Swim BC, Swim Ontario. Everything they did for me helped me so much along the way. I’m so appreciative. If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t have made it so far, and I’ve had a lot of coaches along the way.”