Woolstencroft graduated as electrical engineer from the University of Victoria in 2005 and then joined Canada’s electric utility BC Hydro, for whom she was working for whilst preparing for the Vancouver 2010 alpine skiing competition.
“I had to get the right amount of power to both the permanent and temporary facilities of each venue,” the 34-year-old said.
“It was a fantastic experience and a lot of hard work.
“I was lucky to have a supportive employer and a ski team that helped make it work,” said Woolstencroft, who won eight golds, one silver and one bronze over three Paralympic Games between 2002 and 2010.
“There are no engineers in my family, but I was always drawn towards maths and sciences during my time in high school,” she added.
Woolstencroft admits that it was not easy for her to study while she was competing at the highest level.
“I was fortunate to find a school that was supportive of my alpine skiing career and helped me with my time off requirements,” she said.
“It was a lot of juggling and hard work. I was also fortunate to have great coaches and a team staff that supported my desire to complete my degree.
“You have to be prepared to make sacrifices on both sides if you want to study and compete simultaneously. For me, it was definitely worth it in the end.”
After winning golds in the downhill, slalom, giant slalom, super combined and super-G standing events in Vancouver, Woolstencroft gained deserved recognition.
“I have been enjoying recognition in Canada after the 2010 Games. That was the best experience in my ski racing career for sure!
“It was very meaningful to have my best five performances in front of my family and friends. The first and the last days were especially exciting.
“It was great to kick off the Games with the first medal, which was confidence boosting as I had not had great results leading up to the Games.
“After winning the fifth and last medal, I could not believe what I had just achieved.”
Woolstencroft also believes that her success goes beyond the skis.
“I see myself as part of the Paralympic Movement, which has inspired so many people, and as an example that anything is possible.”
The eight-time Paralympic skiing gold medallist was the subject of Toyota’s touching “Good Odds” commercial that aired during this year’s NFL championship game between Philadelphia and New England. The outpouring of support, she said, was “bigger than any success I had at the Paralympics.
“The amount of messages I’ve had from around the world, and people reaching out who have kids with disabilities, saying it inspired them — it’s incredible.”
One particular message made her smile.
“A person emailed me from Australia and said he was a ski instructor at Canada Olympic Park in the late ’80s. And he had taught me as part of a school group and he remembered me, and that experience of teaching me as an eight-year-old was super meaningful for him,” Woolstencroft said.
“And he said he talked about it through the years, and then there I was on a commercial … You kind of don’t realize the impact you have on people.”
One of Canada’s biggest Paralympic stars, Woolstencroft won three medals in 2002 in Salt Lake, two in Turin, and then capped her career with an astounding five gold medals in Vancouver before retiring.
But for all her accomplishments on the slope, Toyota’s ad, part of their “Start Your Impossible” campaign that centres around mobility, has shone a spotlight on the Calgary native like never before.
“When I agreed [to making the ad], I kind of thought it would be played in the middle of the night, nobody watches commercials anyways, and I didn’t really think about that,” she said. “But it’s been crazy. They actually released it on the Today Show on the Friday before the Super Bowl. I guess that’s a big thing with Superbowl ads, the pre-release to get a buzz. It was unbelievable.”
The 60-second spot, which doesn’t feature a single car, chronicles Woolstencroft’s journey to Paralympic excellence, from the day she was born without legs below the knee, and with no left arm below the elbow.
The 36-year-old is now an electrical engineer and mother of one-year-old son Max, and is working with the CBC’s broadcast crew in Pyeongchang.
The commercial was true to life, she said, developed through re-enactment around video clips and photos of her childhood. The 14-year-old Woolstencroft was played by Erin Latimer, who’s competing on Canada’s alpine team in Pyeongchang.
‘More a story of my life’
The final product made for emotional viewing.
“I saw it in various forms of course, from very rough to finished. But the first time I saw it, it made me kind of uncomfortable, because it’s just kind of funny to see your own sort of story,” Woolstencroft said. “But by the 10th watching, I felt a little bit more okay with it.
“I’ve done so much media and so much on TV, but that’s always been about specific things like winning a medal at the Games. This was more a story of my life, and I hadn’t necessarily done that. So, I think especially for my parents, yeah it was emotional.”
Super Bowl commercials, which cost upwards of US$5 million to air, have become a cultural phenomenon, almost as anticipated as the game itself. According to video ad tech company Unruly, “Good Odds” had the biggest brand bang for its buck. The ad scored the highest on the company’s “EQ” scores that measure emotional, social and business impact.
The ad also aired during the Pyeongchang Olympics.
Woolstencroft hopes those 60 seconds will have a lasting impact on Paralympic sport.
“Any time there is a Paralympian that is in some kind of spotlight is amazing,” she said. “And I think just watching these Olympics, there were numerous ads, not just mine, that featured Paralympians, so I think that speaks to the fact there’s interest, there’s great stories, and yeah, I hope it translates to more viewers of the Paralympic Games, and more people getting involved in Paralympic sport.
“I think that’s the most important thing. That’s the goal.”