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Young Edmonton athlete makes Olympic debut after overcoming adversity

Click to play video: 'The story of an Edmonton woman’s journey to the Olympics' The story of an Edmonton woman’s journey to the Olympics
WATCH ABOVE: Behind every Olympic athlete in Beijing is a story and a team of people who helped them get there. Carole Anne Devaney introduces us to a young Edmonton woman whose arduous journey to the Games began with a love of sports after a devastating loss – Feb 17, 2022

At 22 years old, Dawn Richardson Wilson has reached the pinnacle of her sport: making her Olympic debut in Beijing.

“I’m excited about everything,” she said. “Excited to be here, excited to perform, excited to have my hard work pay off.”

The Edmonton woman is ready to show off her grit on the icy track at nearly 140 kilometres per hour. But behind every athlete who wears the maple leaf, there is a long, arduous journey.

“I had to go through gaining weight, learning new movements, learning new strategies to make myself better for day-to-day training.”

Dawn Richardson Wilson, who is competing for Team Canada in the 2022 Beijing Olympics, seen here with her family.
Dawn Richardson Wilson, who is competing for Team Canada in the 2022 Beijing Olympics, seen here with her family. Courtesy: Dawn Richardson Wilson

Becoming a bobsleigh Olympian was not a life-long dream for the multi-sport athlete. She was just looking for a new challenge in 2018, so when her high school coach suggested the terrifying winter sport, she jumped in with both feet.

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“I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. It was spontaneous,” she says.

The learning curve was steep but Dawn overcame the hurdles and adapted, as she had many times before in her childhood.

Read more: Canadian bobsledder Taylor Austin feeling support from Lethbridge at Beijing Olympics

In 2001, she and her family came to Canada as refugees. A few years later, when Dawn was just six years old, her life took a devastating turn. Her mother passed away, followed by her father a year later.

“It’s unfortunate but they are still with me today.”

Dawn Richardson Wilson, who is competing for Team Canada in the 2022 Beijing Olympics, seen here with her family.
Dawn Richardson Wilson, who is competing for Team Canada in the 2022 Beijing Olympics, seen here with her family. Courtesy: Dawn Richardson Wilson

Dawn was taken in by her older brother and his then-wife Cecilia Gonzales Wilson, who became a mother figure to her.

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“I don’t think I’d be here without them, honestly. They’ve help me through the hard times, they’ve been with me through the good times. They’re still with me today and I’m forever grateful for that.”

Click to play video: 'Supporting Alberta athletes during the 2022 Beijing Olympics' Supporting Alberta athletes during the 2022 Beijing Olympics
Supporting Alberta athletes during the 2022 Beijing Olympics – Feb 17, 2022

Cecilia admits at first, Dawn struggled to find her place in the world. But the quiet student threw herself into sports at St. Lucy Elementary School.

“Sports is what made her comfortable to keep on going,” says Cecilia.

Dawn Richardson Wilson is competing for Team Canada in the 2022 Beijing Olympics. Courtesy: Dawn Richardson Wilson

Athleticism also gave her the mental toughness to embrace life’s unexpected curves.

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“They’ve definitely taught me how to appreciate the smaller things in life and always try to be better than the person I was yesterday,” says Dawn.

Click to play video: 'Parents of Edmonton brothers playing for Team China hockey team pull all-nighters to watch games' Parents of Edmonton brothers playing for Team China hockey team pull all-nighters to watch games
Parents of Edmonton brothers playing for Team China hockey team pull all-nighters to watch games – Feb 17, 2022

Her story of resilience continues to echo through the halls of her old school. Dawn’s former teacher Karen Robinson and her students have been following her road to the podium, since September.

“We’re just so happy and excited that our Dawn is at the Olympics,” says Karen. “It’s quite a feat, it’s quite an achievement.”

The school has decided to create colourful signs and posters so the Olympian knows they’re cheering her on.

“I know she worked really hard on herself and I bet she wants to make everyone proud,” says Grade 4 student KC Martinez.

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Read more: Former Jamaican bobsledders excited to cheer on team after 24-year absence

That’s a fait accompli if you ask her family, who has followed her journey every step of the way.

“Everything she did, and where she is right now, that’s her. We are just her backup!” says Cecilia.

If you’d like to catch Dawn’s first heat, she’s competing at 5 a.m. MST on Friday. She will race again on Saturday.

Father of Dawn Richardson Wilson, who is competing for Team Canada in the 2022 Beijing Olympics. Courtesy: Dawn Richardson Wilson
Mother of Dawn Richardson Wilson, who is competing for Team Canada in the 2022 Beijing Olympics. Courtesy: Dawn Richardson Wilson

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