Three Port Alberni athletes and one from Ucluelet are heading to the Special Olympics Canada Summer Games in Antigonish, NS from July 31–Aug. 4.
Andrew Geddes and Matt Deforge are playing for the Victoria Capitals softball team with Team BC, Mike MacDonald will compete in five swimming events and Maxtin Lengyel from Ucluelet will compete in three track and field events.
This will be MacDonald’s third national championship. He will compete in the 50-metre freestyle, 50m backstroke, 50m breaststroke, 25m fly and 100m individual medley (IM) swimming events.
MacDonald last attended the Special Olympics Canada Summer Games in 2014. He said this time around he will focus on “just trying my best like I always do. My free is the one I like the most,” and it is his strongest stroke, he said.
“He’s worked really hard,” head coach Katherine Taberner said. “He (trains) three times a week at least.”
MacDonald has been working with coach Jeff Waldren, who is accompanying Team BC to Nova Scotia.
Geddes and Laforge, who play with the Special Olympics team in Port Alberni as well as other teams in the region, will be playing on the Capitals’ mixed softball team. “I pitch, but I can play really anywhere,” Geddes said. “It’s the most pressured spot because it’s on you to throw strikes.
“I’ve probably been pitching, I want to say 10 years.”
Laforge plays shortstop, another high-pressure position, Geddes said. “We’re basically the captains on the field. That and centrefield.”
The Port Alberni players haven’t had to travel to Victoria for practices. ” We met them all last year; we’ve all got a brother and sister friendship already,” Geddes said. “We all get along and we’ve got unreal coaches.”
Lengyel, 16 and the second-youngest member of Team BC, has competed at the provincial level but this will be his first national championship—the same as Geddes. He will compete in the 100-metre and 200m running events, and the running long jump. At the 2017 provincials he earned gold, silver and bronze medals in three of his five events, and he’s hoping to improve on that at the nationals.
He says his best event is the 100m dash; he thinks he starts out well, but his mother and coach pointed out that he started out slowly and was in the back of the pack. Halfway through the race he picked up his pace and passed everyone else to win the gold medal.
“I run my fastest as I can,” he said.
Lengyel has only been competing for three years. He ran in a track meet at school and discovered he liked it, and could be successful at it.
“I like to have fun and work my best,” he said.
Lengyel’s coach, Mike Riddalls, trains 14 or 15 Special Olympics athletes in Port Alberni. They practice from the first week of April to the end of June, and go to one track meet per year. Special Olympics athletes train the same way athletes with the local track and field club train, Riddalls said. “The rest of the group all live locally. Maxtin comes in (to Port Alberni). He hasn’t missed very many.
“I think he’ll do well. They have heats and put them in group where they are all comparable. That gives them all an opportunity to come away with a medal.”
Lengyel’s mother, Jacqueline Holliday, said the Special Olympics program has been a gem for him—especially coming from a small community such as Ucluelet, where it’s difficult to field teams sometimes. “Because Maxtin wasn’t coordinated enough to do these sports it fell off for him,” she said.
“His pediatrician said ‘what about Special Olympics’?
“You still get kids…that are more athletic and more capable, but the coaches seem to be able to put the athletes together…so they can still excel, and help them improve. Maxtin’s strengths with his disabilities are to put him in a straight line…and he can succeed.
“It’s just been incredible. As a parent with a child with special needs…coming into Special Olympics makes our family feel normal.”
Team BC comprises 174 Special Olympics athletes who will compete in athletics, basketball, bocce, golf, powerlifting, rhythmic gymnastics, soccer, softball and swimming. Team BC members qualified for the provincial squad through their performances at the 2017 Special Olympics BC Summer Games. The team also includes 54 coaches and 16 mission staff members from 38 communities across B.C.
Special Olympics competitions operate on a four-year cycle for both summer and winter sport. Athletes compete in regional events and then provincial games to qualify for national games. Special Olympics Canada Games are the qualifiers for the Special Olympics World Games, which will happen in 2019 in Abu Dhabi.