“The whole thing was surreal,” 26-year-old Natalia Hawthorn says as she’s spending time relaxing in Oregon with her family after spending the past few years focused on making Canada’s 1,500-metre running squad for the Tokyo Olympics.

The Bracebridge native qualified for the Olympics by setting an Olympic-standard time of 4:04.20 on June 4th, then waited until July 4th to be officially named to Team Canada as a member of its 1,500-metre run team. She didn’t have much time to take that in because by the third week of July, she was in Gifu, Japan for Canada’s training camp. She didn’t travel to Tokyo until a few days before her event on August 1st because of the strict COVID-19 measures in place in Japan. She finished her race in 10th with a time of 4:08.04, but she was with the lead pack for most of the race until a stumble just as the final lap got underway. 

“I was prepared to push the pace if it was too slow, but it was kind of within range so I was okay settling in with the first six,” Hawthorn tells the MyMuskokaNow.com newsroom. To qualify for the next round, a runner either had to finish in the top six in one of the three heats or have one of the next six fastest times. From the start, Hawthorn says the race was “quite messy” with a lot of the other runners bumping into each other. “That was expected,” she says. When Hawthorn stumbled just past the start/finish line, she managed to stay on her feet but a couple of other runners fell. “Even then, I thought I just have to stay focused, stay relaxed, not freak out, hang in there,” she says. As the runners got closer and closer to the finish line, Hawthorn says she gave it everything that she had, but she ended up just missing out on moving on. “Walking off the track I knew I had done everything I could,” she says proudly. 

The Town of Bracebridge set up a banner encouraging Hawthorn (Photo credit: Town of Bracebridge Facebook page)

“I definitely had more nerves than I’m used to, just because I realized this is the world’s stage at the Olympics,” Hawthorn tells the MyMuskokaNow.com newsroom. When she arrived at the “ginormous” stadium for the event she kept reminding herself that this is just another race. “I’ve done this plenty of times before,” Hawthorn says she kept telling herself. As she warmed up, she says she took the time to reflect on her journey to the games and thought about the many people who have helped get her to this point. 

The Japan National Stadium was where her event – and most of the athletic events – were held. It can hold nearly 70,000 people, but the seats were mostly empty during the events except for a handful of competing athletes that stuck around after their events to watch the other competitions. Hawthorn says it felt weird running in front of an empty stadium, but adds she did what she could to make sure it didn’t affect her. 

“It’s been incredible to see the town stand behind me supporting me,” Hawthorn says with an obvious smile on her face. The Town of Bracebridge put up a sign to cheer her on the bridge just outside of town, while the Swiss Chalet in town and Norwood Theatre were two of the many businesses in Muskoka to offer up their support. Hawthorn says the restaurant supporting her was special since she worked there when she was a student at Bracebridge and Muskoka Lakes Secondary School.

With her Olympics now over, she says it was “more than she ever imagined.” Hawthorn adds that competing against the best athletes Canada and the world have to offer was an incredible experience. “Even just walking out (onto the track) and noticing the stadium and the fans from the different teams from around the world was amazing,” she goes on to say. “It changed my perspective to see these athletes who are at the top of the world at the end of the day they just do the same things as us normal people,” she humbly says.

World Athletics ranks Hawthorn as the 65th best women’s 1,500-metre runner in the world. 

Oregon is in the Pacific Time Zone, which is 16 hours behind the time in Tokyo, Japan, so Hawthorn says she’s going to take the next week to relax. “My body is still tired,” she says with a laugh. Her season isn’t over though: she will travel to Memphis, Tennessee next weekend for her last race of the season. Hawthorn says she’s going to push to make the Canadian squad for the World Athletics Championships, which are being held in Eugene, Oregon in July 2022. The qualifying standard time is the same as the Olympics: 4:04.20, which Hawthorn was consistently hitting, and occasionally besting leading up to the Olympics.