Part 1 in a series revealing the journey of Canada’ next generation of Olympic heroes.
Two seasons ago, 20-year-old snowboard cross racer Tayler Wilton stood on the top of her home mountain, Blue Mountain, Ont., – about to make her first FIS World Cup start.
“I was nervous even just about qualifying, wasn’t sure how it was going to go and just to be with the world’s best and qualify and then finish top 16 was just unreal,” she says.
The season, which she calls, “the most incredible ever,” continued.
Wilton placed tenth at the FIS Snowboarding Junior World Championships in Sierra Nevada, and came second at the Junior National Canadian Championships at Nakiska Ski Resort, Alta.
“I’ve always had my sights on the 2014 Olympics, it kind of confirmed that I was on the right track,” Wilton says.
THE RIGHT DIRECTION
She went into the summer, being in the strongest shape she had ever been. Together with her coach Dave Balne, Wilton developed an intense training program aimed at taking her to the top of the World Cup podium – and to Sochi.
Then it all came tumbling down.
In August 2012, one month before she was supposed to hit the snow in September, Wilton was involved in an accident when the car she travelled in as a passenger collided.
“My knee pretty much got obliterated,” says Wilton. She suffered a completely torn posterior cruciate ligament and popliteus tendon, a meniscus tear and a tear in her lateral cruciate ligament.
Wilton, who had never missed a full season or dealt with an injury of such extent, found herself reevaluating snowboarding and her future as a racer.
She made her first turns on a board as a 4-year-old. It didn’t take long before she was racing everyone down the hill.
Five years later, Wilton’s dad entered his adrenaline-loving daughter into alpine snowboarding. At 14, he encouraged her to try her first snowboard cross race.
“I just get such a bliss from snowboarding around,” says Wilton. Snowboard cross, she found, spoke to her competitive side.
“It’s really about that every moment counts in snowboard cross, one moment can change the entire outcome of a race,” she says.
“The adrenaline from the course itself is crazy and then being with four, or five other, people that want the exact same thing takes it to a whole other level.”
Wilton joined the Ontario Snowboard club and made her debut at the FIS Nor-Am Tour at 15, placing third in her first event.
“My coach always says, ‘you’re certainly determined and dedicated,’” she laughs.
That determination pulled Wilton through several months of recovery as she fought her way back to the slopes.
“I mean this is what I’ve wanted my entire life so I can’t be anything else,” Wilton says.
BANKING ON PERSEVERANCE
The car accident made her train even harder.
“I now had a bench mark from where I was pre-accident to where I need to be to get back to where I was, as strong as I was,” she says and adds, “and to surpass that.”
Although her recovery is seemingly never ending since the surgeons decided not to operate her knee, she acknowledges the mental part has been the toughest.
“Overcoming an injury mentally is really hard, I would say for me that it has probably been the hardest part of it all.”
But when Wilton returned to professional snowboarding, she finished top four in several events. She also kept her spot on the Canadian National Development Snowboard Cross Team.
Wilton hopes to compete in the 2018 and 2022 Winter Olympics but the dreams don’t end there.
FINANCING THE FUTURE
It has been an interesting year so far. Thanks to receiving the most financial support she has ever had, Wilton was on to snow before the season started – for the first time.
“It’s extremely important with pre-season training, I’ve been really underrated because you cannot just ride for seven months and then jump on your board and start winning races,” she notes. “I think it’s going to give me an edge.”
Looking back at the accident, she says it made her a little bit more cautious.
“I ride with more intention now, I ride with more awareness.”
“But I think overall it made me a better athlete as a whole, it’s not the ideal situation to figure out some of that stuff but as long as you can grow from the situation, it’s all right,” Wilton says.