Wilkinson Announces Her Retirement

Two-time Olympic team member, Julia Wilkinson-Minks has announced her retirement from competitive swimming.  SwimBC congratulates Julia on her hugely successful career, and was glad to have her as a member for the past four-plus years.  We wish her all the best in her future endeavours.

Below is the excerpt from her website (juliawilkinson.com) where she explains her decision.

After several months of consideration, and changing my mind hundreds of times, I have finally come to the decision to retire from the sport of swimming, something that has been a part of me since I joined the Stratford Kinsmen Y Aquatic Club at the age of eight. When people ask me, “Well, don’t you want to go to Rio?” I don’t know what to say. Of course I would love to represent Canada at another Olympics, but I know, in my heart, that I no longer have the drive to put in the work that is needed to get me there. I have never been the swimmer who loved training and reveled in the hard work, I saw it as a necessary evil: what I loved, from the time I was eight years old, was winning. Winning against others, but more importantly, winning against myself. There is no better feeling than finally breaking through that barrier and achieving a goal you set years before. That is what I always have and always will love about this sport. And that is what I will miss.

There is a whole lot that I won’t miss, however. I won’t miss waking up early and jumping into a freezing cold pool: even when I was little, my mom used to bride me out of bed with toast or cereal. I won’t miss lying awake in my bed because my shoulder hurts so badly. I won’t miss being away from my husband. And I won’t miss that horrible, sinking feeling that I experienced when I came 9th at the Olympics.

I have missed out on a lot of things. At my wedding, I looked around at my family, and couldn’t believe that my youngest cousin was now in university. Where had the time gone? And I realized that I haven’t been to any of our major family gatherings in a long time (I think my Great Aunt now believes that my cousin’s blond girlfriend is actually me because Emily makes it to more family functions than I do). I have been putting swimming first for as long as I can remember. I left my family and my home in grade 12 to train with NYAC and Murray Drudge. Then I went to Texas A&M, two thousand miles away. Upon graduating, I headed out to the West Coast to train with Randy Bennett at the Victoria Academy of Swimming, which, although back in Canada, was even further from my loved ones. I did all of this because of swimming, and I have hard evidence as to where this type of sacrifice and hard work will get me. National titles, multiple trips to international finals, and even a few international medals. There was a time when all of these sacrifices were worth that, and this just isn’t the time anymore.

That being said, I look back on my career without a single regret. Do I mourn some of my failed performances? Absolutely. But I do not regret the process. I don’t even regret the moment when I made the “saw em off” signal to the crowd after passing Texas on the last leg to win the 800-free relay at Conference my senior year (I was given a stern talking to by my coach, but it was totally worth it).  I can look in the mirror today and know, in my heart, that I did everything in my power to be the best in the world. I came up short, and maybe it was for lack of talent, or toughness, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.

            There are so many people I need to thank for this journey. But I just want to thank the sport in general. Because of swimming I am the confident, happy, person I am today. Swimming opened so many doors for me, it took me to Texas A&M, where I made everlasting friendships, and met my husband. Swimming, I will miss you. And you are a part of me, but you are not all of me, and I am excited to see what else there is out there for me.

Thank-you, to everyone who has had a hand in making my career the glorious journey that it was:

  • My sister Jane, who is the reason I started swimming the first place, and is the one who always understood what I was going through in the pool, good or bad
  • My mom and dad, for all the support, and always letting this be “my dream”
  • My wonderful husband Shane, who really is my biggest fan, and is always there to pick up the pieces when the shit hits the fan
  • Randy Bennett, my coach at VAS, who helped me not just become a better swimmer but also a better person. Because he took a vested interest in my mental health and helping me tackle my anxiety issues I will be a happier, healthier person as I move on in my life.
  • Island Swimming, for being willing to support the VAS athletes and help us focus on performance rather than money and politics.
  • Steve Bultman, my coach at Texas A&M, who promised me on my recruiting trip that I was “a Canadian first, an Aggie second”, and he would do everything in his power to help me make the Olympic team. He made good on that promise.
  • Tracy Duchac and Kristin Hill, the assistant coaches during my tenure at A&M. Kristin for recruiting me and taking care of me when I was a terrified freshman, and Tracy, for always, ALWAYS being there when the girls needed her. Her daughter is extremely lucky.
  • Paul Sealey, my weight coach at Texas A&M, who never stopped believing in me in the face of numerous injuries, real or imagined
  • Andrew Ethier, my club coach at SKYAC, who built my base as a swimmer and travelled all over the country with only me for meets. He refuses to take any credit for my success, but HE is the reason for my distance per stroke and my versatility as a swimmer.
  • Tim and Lianna Doherty, for coming in and making SKYAC a competitive team when I was nine years old. Lianna was the first coach to ever take notice of me, and is still a great friend.
  • My Texas A&M Team, who I went to hell and back with. Especially my roommates Kristen Heiss and Sarah Stratton (Woods), you kept me sane throughout college.
  • My Victoria Academy of Swimming teammates, for just being amazing at what they do. Thanks to Ryan Cochrane, for setting the example of excellence, Hilary Caldwell for training backstroke in the blinding sun beside me, Alexa Komarnycky for always being such a fun roommate and inspirational trainer, and Mackenzie Downing, for understanding me through and through. And Stefan Hirniak for keeping me in check, and Blake Worsley for giving me someone to take my frustration out on when I was having a bad day
  • 2008 Olympic teammate Tanya Hunks, for supporting me and everyone who ever had the pleasure of being on a team with you
  • Dr. Bramhall, Matt Kee, Paul McIntyre and Matt Rose, for always “putting Humpty Dumpty back together again”
  • Our amazing support staff in Victoria: Liz Johnson, Susan Boegman, Joelle McCartie, Dr. Alex Brothers, and Cam Birtwell, Kirsten Barnes and Bruce Pinel  
  • Josey Corbo and Jan Hanan, our managers at Swim Canada, for never sleeping and being at our beckoning call every day and night during team trips. God bless y’all, really.
  • Murray Drudge, Olga Macel, and the entire North York Aquatic Club, for accepting me with open arms and being the essential stepping stone that I needed to prepare me for my career at Texas A&M.
  • Swim Canada, Swim BC and Swim Ontario
  • CAN FUND, TransCanada Corporation, Diva International, UGG, and Team Aquatic Supplies for being such a huge help on the financial side
  • The city of Stratford, Ontario and the sports writers at the Beacon Herald for being the first ones to tell my story
  • The late Randy Starkman and Nick Thierry, for encouraging my writing and helping me find catharsis for my swimming
  • The late Gord Sleivert, for helping build our amazing center in Victoria and always believing in us
  • Europe, for the most epic pump-up song, “The Final Countdown”

I no doubt have forgotten people who have had a hand in my success a long the way, and for that, I am sorry. I’m sure there will be a follow-up blog with a list as long as this one!

            Thank-you, finally, to my fans, for supporting me through the podium performances and moments I missed the finals. It has been an amazing journey, and I will miss all the good times without a doubt. But, as my mom always says “everyone is the Wayne Gretzky of something”, and personally, I am still waiting to find out what that is.