Lauren Wilkinson '07: The Journey to Success
When Lauren Wilkinson ‘07 recently received the Alumnae Association’s 2013 Achievement Award, her classmate and nominator told a story from back in their rowing days at Crofton House: “I knew Lauren was different when we were out rowing on the lake in our boat of four, and I heard a splashing coming up fast from behind us. It turns out it was Lauren, by herself in a boat, as she flew past and finished the race with open water between us.”
Lauren chatted briefly with us at the Old Residence on the day she received her award. She was lively and charming, but more than anything, she spoke with a genuineness, considering each question with a high degree of sincerity and honesty before answering. Indeed, her responses indicated all the marks of a leader in the making.
1898: What advice would you give to young girls aspiring to elite athletics?
LW: First, make sure you have fun. You can have a goal for a certain sport, but see what’s out there. Throughout my time at Crofton House, I had access to the field hockey team, I did cross-country, and I had a lot of fun at sports days too. As much as your sport is your job as an elite athlete, it’s so important to love what you do and have fun.
1898: Who would you consider to be your greatest mentors along the way?
LW: That is a really tough question because I have had a lot of support. I would not have been where I was last summer, on the medal dock, without all the people who had helped me along the way. Definitely my mother and my father were important. The support that I had from my family was incredible, and they never stopped believing in my brothers or me. My first rowing coach was another big one. He started me off in rowing, but honestly there are too many people who had too big of an impact to name all of them. I had wonderful teachers here at Crofton House who not only supported my athletic dreams, because I had to travel quite a lot in my senior year, but also inspired me on my academic path. I’m thinking particularly of my science teachers.
People along the way weren’t just interested in one aspect of who I was. They didn’t treat me like a product. They wanted me to succeed in all areas of my life, so that was very lucky. It’s something that I think is very unique to Crofton House, and that probably has a lot to do with its small size. I think some of my mentors here may not even know how much they inspired me. They loved what they were doing, they loved teaching, and I think that I was not the only person who was affected by that passion.
1898: In what other ways did you develop the perseverance and determination required to be an Olympic athlete?
LW: I think a big part of it was the environment I grew up in. I have two older brothers, so they were my idols growing up, and I wanted to be like them. If you stubbed your toe, you didn’t cry. You had a stiff upper lip, and all that. I also learned a lot about perseverance through the training itself. I saw that if I worked hard, and I didn’t complain, I would often achieve success. There was a lot of positive reinforcement that way.
It’s hard when you’re a child, though. You have a sense of yourself, but it’s not necessarily mature. But growing up in an environment with supportive people, and people like my peers and teammates who challenged me, it’s was almost like I developed determination by osmosis.
1898: So what does the future hold for you? Where are you headed from here?
LW: Right now I hope to complete my master’s program in microbiology and immunology by April next year, which is another challenge because it’s usually a two and a half year program and I’m doing it in a year and a half.
The reason that I have that deadline is that I’ve committed to be back in Ontario at the Women’s Training Center. It’s because I have another dream, which is Rio de Janeiro in 2016. First, though, I have to make the team because they do selection every year. Winning a medal or being on a previous world champion team doesn’t guarantee you a spot. However, if I make the team, and if we qualify for the Olympics, my dream is to win a gold medal!
And coming back to the idea of mentors, the women in that boat had such a broad age range, and only two of us were newbies. In other words, all of the others had been to previous Olympics, which was a huge help. The same thing goes for rowing as goes for academics: having people who know what it’s all about is so important. They can help prepare you for the experience, although I don’t think they can quite tell you what it’s going to be like until you’ve actually been there.
1898: Having gone through the Olympic Games once, is there anything you’d do differently the next time around?
For starters, I wouldn’t pack quite so many things! But, more importantly, I think I would approach the Games a little differently. I would take more time to appreciate the environment that I was in. I was so focused, really for the past five years, starting in university all the way to making the team, that with each step I was saying, “Oh, I’m done this? What’s the next thing I need to do.”
I found after I raced and crossed the finish line last summer, I could hardly believe that I was in the Olympic final and we’d won a silver medal. And then, it was over! That was the Olympic Games. Whoosh! It felt so different than what I’d expected, because keeping focused ahead was an important part of what allowed me to make the team and pull as hard as I possibly could in that final race. But by only thinking about the next step, I missed a little bit of the journey. I think I’d take more time to appreciate that next time!
After we had talked, something kept coming back about the interview. There’s something in Lauren’s demeanour that one only very rarely encounters. Perhaps it’s the attitude of a champion, or perhaps it’s more accurately that of someone who has unwaveringly pursued a vision and a dream. Regardless, it’s inspiring and it stays with you long after you encounter it. The driven way in which she has pursued her life goals thus far suggests that there will be more victories ahead. For now, though, we at Crofton House School congratulate her on her remarkable accomplishments to date and wish her the best.