Wolfe Island community celebrates their first Olympian, Kristina Walker

Horses, trucks, tractors, firetrucks, ATVs, bikes, and even motorized children’s vehicles participated in a day of celebration on Wolfe Island on Sunday, Jul. 11, 2021 in honour of Kristina Walker, Wolfe Island resident, active community member, and member of Team Canada for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics in the Women’s Four Rowing. Photo by Reid Cunningham.

When we meet people throughout our lives, it’s expected that our view of others evolves as we gradually get to know them. It can take a long time to get to know most people and understand who they are inside and out.

Then, there are the few people we meet whom we instantly feel as though we’ve known our entire lives, with an energy that’s larger than life and impossible not to feed off of. Kristina Walker is that and more to so many people who have been lucky to meet her, whether that’s on Wolfe Island, in the Kingston community, on the University of British Columbia (UBC) campus, or now, as her teammates for Team Canada as they head off to Tokyo for the 2021 Summer Olympic games. 

In Kingston, you will often walk down Princess Street and run into a hundred people within an hour. It’s a classic Kingston tale that many will joke about. In the fall of 2018, I had the chance to visit some friends in Vancouver and met with Kristina while I was there. This had to be planned out well in advance. Keep in mind, Kristina was running on one of the busiest schedules you could ever imagine. She was the UBC rowing team captain, the President of Athletics for the entire university, and an honor roll student studying commerce at one of the top schools in Canada. She showed me around the stunning UBC campus, and as we were walking, she was stopped by almost every person we walked past — And not just in a ‘hey, how are ya?… Take care’ kind of exchange — They all seemed to have truly genuine friendships with her. It spoke volumes to witness how much of an impact Kristina makes when you get the chance to meet her. 

It’s important I share this example when speaking about the event on Wolfe Island on Sunday, Jul. 11, 2021 called ‘Kristina Walker Day,’ as this event was not about some small-town kid who was celebrated by friends and family who happen to know everyone because of small-town dynamics. This was a celebration of someone who has given so much, not only to her own community, but to many others. Walker has inspired almost everyone she has met throughout her journey, a journey that has led her to becoming the first Wolfe Islander to compete in the Olympics. 

“When she made the Olympics, we thought, this Island has to celebrate Kristina’s dream and the Walker family, and we should give a little bit back, as Kristina’s done so much for the community,” said Stella Cuban, one of the co-organizers of yesterday’s event. 

“Because we were under covid rules, we knew that we couldn’t have a big celebration where we would gather everybody together. That’s what Wolfe Islanders do as they support each other,” said Michelle White, another co-organizer for yesterday’s event. “We had seen many birthday parties and anniversaries celebrated by drive-bys, so, although we weren’t officially a parade, we thought that a drive-by the corn maze where Kristina lives would be the perfect solution.”

For those who aren’t aware, Walker’s family farm is home to the Wolfe Island Corn Maze, a favourite annual visit for tourists and those in the area.

Canadian flags and a banner of congratulations hang from the Walker residence on Wolfe Island, home to Kristina Walker, a professional rower representing Canada in the 2021 Summer Olympics. Photo by Reid Cunningham.

One of the most prominent examples of Walker’s impact on her community comes from August of 2016, when she single-handedly organized an event called ‘Wolfe Island Heroes.’ The idea came after a friend of Kristina’s and a fellow Islander had been diagnosed with cancer. In true Walker fashion, she couldn’t sit back and not do anything to help him and his family. She set out to organize a run on Wolfe Island to show support to her friend and all the Islanders who have fought or are still fighting cancer. Remember: Walker is a rower, not a runner, yet she organized a 30km community run from the foot of the Island to Marysville on one of the hottest days of the summer. The event ended up seeing the entire Wolfe Island community rallying behind her and all of the heroes on Wolfe Island who raised $20,000 for the Kingston Cancer Clinic. And for those who might not understand the scope of training for one particular sport, they don’t all necessarily coincide with one another. This is a person who not only helped raise money for an important cause, but set aside her rowing training to help others. And yet, here we are, as Walker is currently in Tokyo competing in the women’s four for rowing. 

“Her heart is right here all the time,” White said, tearing up as she put her hand over her heart. “We needed to do something to show her that we appreciate her on Wolfe Island and her silent way that she goes about organizing things like the Wolfe Island Heroes event. She needed to know we were all cheering for her.”

It was truly overwhelming to stand by and watch hundreds of cars, trucks, bicycles, wagons, tractors and horses, decorated with signs, flags, and life-size posters of Kristina, cheering on not just an Olympian, but someone who means so much to them. You couldn’t help but have tears in your eyes and be overwhelmed with pride for someone who has worked so incredibly hard to get to where she is. 

“It comes right down to community and supporting each other,” said White. “We’ve all been through a lockdown and have been cooped up, and this was a reason to come together and to celebrate Kristina.”

“It’s support and love,” said Cuban. “This community has a lot of love for people like Kristina, and it just shows how we all rally behind each other. This is just us showing our love for Kristina, and her dream, and the Walker family. They have meant so much to the community, and she embodies everything that the Walkers are.”

A graduate of the Advertising and Marketing Communications Program, Reid Cunningham has had experience as a producer for over three years. Running a local arts festival for Blue Canoe Theatrical Productions, The Juvenis Festival, Reid enrolled in the AMC program at St. Lawrence College to gain his skills in advertising, sales, and business entrepreneurship. Reid started in radio in the spring of 2019 working for The Rogers Radio Group as a Promotions Assistant and Road Crew Member, and currently works for The Kingstonist in multiple capacities. Reid is also a local musician playing in Kingston groups such as Talk of The Street, Placeholders, and Funkyard.

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