She may have climbed out of the water but Julia Wilkinson definitely has not left the pool.
The two-time Olympian and Canadian record holder, who announced her retirement from competitive swimming in February, has accepted a job as a sports marketing representative for Nike Swim. In her new role she will promote the company’s swim brand and racing suits.
Wilkinson believes her six years as a member of the Canadian national swim team will give her credibility with swimmers. She helped test the company’s new line of racing suits.
“That’s my hope that people will trust that I know what it’s like to be a swimmer, what it’s like to be putting on a racing suit, what racing suits feel like, what swimmers like, what they don’t like,” Wilkinson said.
“For me that’s really important because I never wanted someone to pull a fast one on me and tell me a suit was good when it wasn’t. I really wouldn’t have taken this position if I thought the suits weren’t good because I didn’t want to be convincing swimmers to wear a suit that was crummy.”
The Stratford, Ont., native studied communications and sports management at Texas A&M. She anticipates a learning curve with her new job.
“I’m a little bit nervous,” said the 26-year-old, whose father was a doctor and mother an English teacher. “You have to be ready to learn.
“It’s like when you were 10 years old and starting at the bottom as a swimmer. I’m starting at the bottom all over again as I learn how to do this job.”
When some athletes retire they completely walk away from a sport. Wilkinson continued to be involved with swimming as a writer for SwimNews.com.
“Personally I think it’s really healthy to stay involved in swimming,” Wilkinson said. “You have to face it. If you don’t face moving on, if you just hide from the sport for the rest of your life, eventually that’s probably going to come back to bite you.
“For me, I looked at the job description and I thought this would be the best transitional job ever. I get to do the fun side of swimming. I get to go to the meets, talk to the swimmers, talk to the coaches, but I don’t have to do the physical work.”
Attending swim meets has stirred some “what-if thoughts” for Wilkinson. But in her heart she’s convinced she made the correct decision to retire.
“I’m always going to miss hitting the wall first at Canadian nationals,” she said. “I don’t miss getting up at 5:30 a.m. and going to practice. I don’t miss being in pain a lot. I don’t miss being stressed out all the time.
“It was time to pass the torch.”
The last 12 months have seen many changes for Wilkinson.
She went to the 2012 London Olympics aiming for a medal but missed the 100-metre backstroke final by .09 of a second. She also was 13th in the 100-m freestyle. Wilkinson was a member of the 4×100-m freestyle relay team that finished 11th and the 4×100 medley relay that was 12th.
“I am sad I never won a medal at the Olympics,” Wilkinson said. “I mourn that but I really do feel like I did everything in my power to swim as fast as I could and do the best I could.
“I see the fact that it didn’t happen as it’s just the way it was meant to be. I look in the mirror and I know I did everything I could and it just didn’t work out.”
In January Wilkinson married Shane Minks, a former member of the Texas A&M baseball team. She officially announced her retirement Feb. 13.
“It was the best day ever because the next day was Valentine’s Day,” she laughed. “I never felt as loved on Valentine’s Day as this year because I kept getting all these wonderful emails and messages from people telling me congratulations and I would be missed.
“I highly recommend it as a good day to announce your retirement.”