Justin Wilkinson defies the odds for his love of bobsled

When you first spot Justin Wilkinson interacting with his teammates you may mistake him for one of the coaches.

But it’s not just his extensive knowledge of the sport that sets him apart. Wilkinson doesn’t look like a typical bobsledder, standing 5-7, and weighing roughly 195-pounds.

 “I’ve always liked being that guy who gets to slay the giants,” said Wilkinson, commenting on slighter frame and shorter stature.

Nor is that an unfamiliar position for him to be.

Wilkinson said he has “always liked to do the things that maybe I wasn’t always necessarily built for” – things such as football.

Left to Right: Justin Wilkinson, Chris Spring, Ben Coakwell and Tim Randall push off at the start of a training run at Canada Olympic Park.

Photo by Ian EsplenBefore becoming a bobsledder, he was a member of the Calgary Colts football team, and started the sport of bobsleigh weighing less than 150 pounds.

But because of his lack of size, Wilkinson has heard his share of critics over the years.

First, there were those who told him he should drive or take up skeleton instead of pursuing the positions of brakeman or crewman, which are roles that generally go to larger athletes.

Then, after earning a spot on Canada’s World Cup team, he was then told by critics that he wouldn’t be competitive and race much.

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If you could eat dinner with 3 people, alive or dead, who would you choose?

Bryan Baeumler, Chris Farley and Jack Bauer

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Sons of Anarchy

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The Big Lebowski 

Wilkinson has responded to those critics by winning a pair of bronze medals on the World Cup circuit and remains in the mix for Canada’s national team yet again this year.

Wilkinson said the secret to him staying in the sport so long is his love for it, adding that he puts “everything I have into it. Every single run.”

That’s something former Canadian national development team coach Dennis Marineau remembers from when he was trying to teach Wilkinson how to drive a bobsled many seasons ago.

“He always did his best, and even after failure, after failure of trying to be a driver he never gave up on it.”

In fact, according to fellow Canadian bobsledder Cody Sorensen, Wilkinson is
“without a doubt he’s the hardest working guy out there. He really is ultimate Bobsledder.”

“He can push from any of the positions and he can really help make a team better with his leadership and knowledge.”

Justin Wilkinson helps work on his team’s bobsleigh after a training run.

Photo by Ian EsplenThat coach-like knowledge, coupled with his technical prowess, also helps keep Wilkinson competitive. In his twelve seasons, Wilkinson estimates he has been down bobsled tracks all over the world more than 2,000 times.

As a result of that experience, Sorensen, calls Wilkinson “Mr. Bobsleigh.”

“If you have any questions about your sled, he knows what to do. If you need to find a garage in Europe, he knows where to go.”

Wilkinson’s experience, knowledge and love for the sport may also come in handy in the future.

Marineau believes Wilkinson’s passion for the sport will lead to him becoming a coach one day.

Both he and Sorensen say that will leave a big hole in the national bobsled team.

But Marineau says Wilkinson is a “shoe-in” to mentor Canada’s future bobsledders “because of his knowledge and experience.”

“His whole career he has taught so many people the ropes of bobsleigh.”

And that’s what really sets Wilkinson apart; making the smallest bobsledder a big component of the success Canada has had in recent years.

iesplen@cjournal.ca