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Olympian and NCAA Champion Julia Wilkinson-Minks saw tremendous success in the pool wearing two caps—one the maroon and white of Texas A&M, and one the maple leaf of her native Canada. She qualified for the Beijing Olympics in 2008, swimming in the finals of the 200-meter individual medley, and returned to the world stage four years later in London. As an Aggie, she capped a stellar career by winning the 100 freestyle at the 2010 NCAA Championships, becoming the first in program history to claim an individual title.
Julia graduated several months later with a degree in Communication and a double minor in English and sport management. The Ontario native currently resides in Angleton, Texas with her husband--former Aggie baseball and professional pitcher Shane Minks--and writes for Swimming World Magazine. She also is working with Nike Swim in the development of a new performance suit.
Who was your role model growing up?
“I always looked up to other Canadian Olympic swimmers like Mark Tewksbury, Joanne Malar and Marianne Limpert. But I think my role models were my family--my mom, dad and older sister Jane. My mom and dad always worked so hard at their jobs and were very passionate about what they did. I learned to never do things halfway, that the only way to achieve a goal was to work as hard as you possibly could.”
What brought you from Canada to Texas A&M?
“Texas A&M was my first of four recruiting trips. Steve Bultman had seen my times from the 2004 Olympic Trials and thought that I might have some potential. I actually missed my flight from Toronto to Houston, but other than that, the trip was perfect. I had never seen a football game in my life--I didn't even know what a "down" was--and they took me to the game against K-State and we won. I also remember being absolutely blown away by Midnight Yell. I didn't understand any of it, but I wanted to be a part of it. I felt like after years of being a loner because I was so passionate about my sport, (when) no one understood that, I had finally found my ‘people’.”
Tell us a little bit about your Olympic experience…
“My two experiences--Beijing and London--were very different. In 2008, the goal was to just MAKE the Olympic team. So once I did that, just being there was good enough. When I qualified for the Olympic final, it was well beyond everyone's expectations of what I could do. Getting up on the blocks in the final wearing the maple leaf, hearing my Aggie teammate Christine Marshall (who swam for the USA) cheer for me because we were both Aggies, that was amazing. In London, the goal was to win a medal for Canada, and that dream ended in the semi-finals by eight hundredths of a second. Coming in ninth and missing the final by one spot was devastating, and pretty much painted my entire experience. I think someday I will look back and appreciate it for what it was, but for now, when people ask me if London was just ‘amazing to be there’, I have to disagree. I arrived with one goal in mind, and unfortunately I didn't achieve it. That is really hard for an athlete.”
What was your favorite memory at the Olympics?
“Heading into the semi-final of the 200 IM in 2008, I knew I needed a huge best time to qualify for the final (I had qualified 13th, I needed top 8). I managed to finish second in the second of two semi-finals, broke the Canadian record, and qualify for the final the following day. When I got out of the pool, I could see my mom, dad, and sister in the stands holding up a Canadian flag, my dad gave me a Gig 'Em and I literally ‘jumped for joy’ on the pool deck with my arms up in the air (which I regretted after, because my legs were so sore from the race!). I will never forget that moment.”
What is your greatest memory as a collegiate athlete?
“It is a tie between two. My sophomore year, we beat Texas for our first ever Big 12 Championship, 931-930. We were seven points behind going into the final relay, and the difference between first and second in the relays is an eight-point switch. We knew that if we won the relay, we would win the meet, and I got to lead off that relay. I was so nervous at the time, but I feel so honored that I got to be one of the four that swam on that winning relay.”
“My final individual collegiate race was the 100 freestyle at NCAAs, the year after I was forced to redshirt because of shoulder surgery. I had been second in the event my junior year, so I had been forced to wait a whole two years until I had another chance to win the event. The time I posted was not as fast as I had hoped, but it didn't matter, I got my hand on the wall first and won Texas A&M's first ever NCAA title in swimming, and my entire team rushed from their seats to me behind the blocks to embrace me in this giant Aggie group hug. I had never, ever seen that happen in my career at NCAAs, and it just proved what an awesome team we were. The girls had stood by me while I recovered from shoulder surgery, and they knew how much winning meant to me because of the injury. Right after I won, Alia Atkinson won the 200 breaststroke, and the girls rushed the deck all over again. It was awesome when Breeja Larson and Cammile Adams won their NCAA titles after I had graduated, because the Aggies are still rushing the deck. It's like a new tradition!”
What was your hardest transition after school?
“Swimming is essentially an "individual" sport, except during my career at Texas A&M--it felt like a team sport. When I graduated and swam pro for two years, it was hard to feel like I was in an individual sport again. I missed having that feeling of the team relying on me. It was the best motivation in the world.”
What is one bit of advice you would offer younger athletes as they are finishing up school?
“Enjoy every moment, even the ones that seem bad, because you can never go back once you are done with your eligibility. That isn't to say there aren't a lot of great things awaiting you beyond the NCAA, but once you are done, you are done. You will miss it.”
How has the Aggie Network impacted you?
“A few weeks ago, I attended the 12th Man Annual summer meeting in San Antonio to talk about my experiences as an athlete. When asked what I was doing now, I mentioned, half-jokingly, that I had just gotten my green card and needed a job. After the panel, at least five people gave me their cards and told me to send them my resumes, and some of those people have offered me jobs. The Aggie Network will always come through for you, which is especially comforting in these tough economic times. I got recruited by Harvard, and didn't want to go there because I wanted to swim on a better team. Some of my friends in Canada thought I was nuts, because of the opportunities I would have once I had a degree from Harvard. I feel like I have better opportunities with a degree from Texas A&M, thanks to the Aggie Network.”