PYEONGCHANG, Korea, Republic Of — Lauren Woolstencroft has received hundred if not thousands of messages since her remarkable life story was broadcast to the world during the Super Bowl.
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.
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."
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press