Madison Wilson-Walker in action. Photo courtesy Lululemon

King’s University College para athlete aspires and inspires

By 
  • March 2, 2022

Para athlete and King’s University College student Madison Wilson-Walker has been named the recipient of the 2022 Jeffrey Reed Courage Award.

Presented by LondonOntarioSports.com the award was established in 2016 and is given out annually to a Southwestern Ontario athlete who inspires others with courage shown on and off the playing field. A decorated internationally ranked track and field athlete, the 24-year-old is a bi-lateral amputee who competes on the world stage as a T62/F62 competitor — a classification for athletes with bilateral below knee limb deficiency competing with prostheses where minimum impairment criteria for lower limb deficiency are met. She is a member of King’s College affiliate, Western University’s track and field team, where she competes in the long jump and sprints.

The Jeffrey Reed Courage Award is named after the publisher of LondonOntarioSports.com, a disabled athlete and journalist who excelled at baseball and golf despite spinal deformities.

“Madison Wilson-Walker is one of the strongest people I know, and she is one of my heroes,” Reed said when announcing the award. “Despite her physical challenges, she lives by the phrase carpe diem (‘seize the day’) on and off the playing field.”

A native of Springfield, Ont., just outside of London, Wilson-Walker contracted meningococcal, septicemia and gangrene at three years old and as a result had both legs amputated below the knees, as well as four fingers on her left hand and also became deaf in her left ear. With her “never say I can’t” attitude, she competed in several sports as a child including horseback riding, figure skating and swimming before zeroing her focus in on track and field. She won bronze in the high jump at the 2018 European Championships in Berlin, Germany, and competed at the 2019 World Championships in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. She has served as an athlete representative on the board of directors at London Western Track and Field Club in Ontario. The Jeffrey Reed award, she says, came as a pleasant surprise.

“I knew there was probably a lot of great athletes that were up for it,” said Wilson-Walker, who is her final year at King’s College majoring in disability studies.  “(Jeffrey Reed) told me there was a few Olympians that had been nominated this year, so I was very shocked that I was picked over an Olympian. It was really cool news to receive.”

After a challenging couple of years of training due to interruptions caused by the pandemic, she has her eyes set on the 2023 World Championships and 2024 Paralympic Games, both of which are set for Paris. In the past, when she made teams, she was looking for a good experience. In 2015, she made her international debut at World Championships in Doha, Qatar where she had a strong sixth place overall finish in the Women’s T44 400-metre event. She’s been a semi-finalist at other events but her main goal now is working towards a top eight world ranking.

When Wilson-Walker started competing in track and field at 16, she always knew she could have a long career. She learned about the Jeffrey Reed Courage Award in high school and was nominated in the first or second year but didn’t win. Not sure who nominated her this year, she was surprised to hear the news late last year and was over the moon a few weeks ago to get the call that she had won. Nominated athletes submit a 1,000-word essay about their courage on and off the playing field. The winner receives a $1,000 prize, a commemorative plaque and national recognition.

Outside of disability studies at King’s College, Wilson-Walker is independently taking a personal training course with aspirations to be a personal trainer one day. While she intends to work with people of all physical needs, she desires to give special focus in her practice to people with disabilities. Given her lived experience as a person with a physical disability and as an elite level athlete, she hopes to bring a competency to the field dominated by coaches who never had to overcome those challenges themselves. She hopes having the ability to relate to the clients with whom she works will help further paralympic sport in Canada.

“I’ve never heard of a personal trainer that has a disability,” said Wilson-Walker. “I’ve had good experiences with a lot of coaches not treating me differently from any other athlete. But then there have been times that I had other coaches that were not really understanding at all. I remember I had a coach yell at me in the weight room because he didn’t know why I couldn’t do a certain lift properly, even though I had never done lifting before and was missing the key body part to do it properly.

“I feel like I would be able to help relate to those (athletes) more.  I think it would make people feel more comfortable and it would be a lot more welcoming just because I’ve probably gone through similar things that they have.”

Wilson-Walker is currently being coached by Caroline Ehrhardt, eight-time national champion in the women’s triple jump, and her husband decathlete and sprints coach Taylor Ehrhardt who both serve on the Western University track and field team.

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