Even though she had one of Canada's best-ever individual showings at the Paralympic Winter Games in March, Whistler's Mollie Jepsen said she still didn't realize the impact her performance had from coast to coast.
The 18-year-old Jepsen, who won four medals in alpine skiing, including a gold, was one of four athletes to officially participate in Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill on Sunday, joining para-Nordic skier Brian McKeever, speed skater Kim Boutin and freestyle skiers Mikael Kingsbury. Musical headliners, meanwhile, included Arkells and Lights. Jepsen said she also met Governor General Julie Payette as part of the festivities.
Jepsen said she was invited to speak at the celebrations about a month ago, and spent June being excited for the first of July.
"Until that moment, it hadn't really hit me how Korea went and how successful it had been for me. In that moment, I realized it was pretty cool," she said.
Jepsen said her speech gave her the chance to tell her story as an athlete, as she's already had to overcome multiple lengthy injuries that have sidelined her for nearly whole seasons at a time.
"I got to talk about my background and what it took to get here, through my injuries and my history with sports in general. Canada has given me the opportunity to pursue whatever it is I wanted to pursue," she said.
Jepsen also shared a moment from the Paralympics when she was introducing herself to some fellow athletes that she feels represents our country's place in the world.
"I had one moment in Korea where I hadn't really met anybody yet. I introduced myself, 'Hi, I'm Mollie from Canada. I was offered respect and admiration right off the bat before they even knew me just because I was dressed as being from Canada,'" Jepsen recalled. "It's the same no matter where I travel in the world.
"Being from Canada has a very positive reflection."
While extreme heat (including a record-setting humidex of 47 degrees Celsius at the Ottawa International Airport) diminished crowds from previous years, estimates still pegged about 6,000 people in attendance for the noon show and 19,000 later in the day.
"I was super nervous beforehand. It was a big crowd and there were a lot of people," Jepsen recalled. "It was honestly so awesome. I never thought I'd be standing on Parliament Hill for Canada Day, being surrounded by a lot of other very successful Canadians."
After a 48-hour whirlwind trip, Jepsen has returned to Whistler and is working with Whistler Dog Sitting this summer. In terms of training, she took part in a camp at Oregon's Mount Hood for two weeks in June. In August, she'll head to South America for some summer training, but for now, is appreciating her time in Whistler.
"I'm getting some much-needed time at home," Jepsen said.