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Preparing for the big games: Gander athletes looking forward to upcoming Special Olympics


National olympics to be held in Antigonish later this summer

GANDER, N.L. – Six athletes from the Gander area are hard at work training for the upcoming Special Olympics Summer Games.

This year the national competition takes place in Antigonish, Nova Scotia from July 31-Aug. 4. The Beacon spoke with three experienced athletes on their training and excitement for the upcoming games.

The crew have been training since September, with associate coach Paul Mercer guiding them through a variety of intensive exercises.

This will be the fifth nationals for Sarah Brown, 28, but her first time competing as a swimmer. Previously, her athletic efforts were mainly focused in track and field.

“I got sick of track and needed to try something new and different,” Brown said. “I love swimming so far, and I’ve improved so much.”

The change in sport has been no obstacle for Brown, who has since joined the Gander Lakers swim team and recently took home a bronze medal at the Summer Classic competition in St. John’s. She won the medal in the 200 metre breast stroke.

Floresa Harris, 29, and John Philpott, 36, are returning athletes with plenty of experience.

The 2018 summer games will be Philpott’s eighth national competition, this year partaking in the 800m and 1,500m race and the running long jump. He has had such an active career in the special Olympics, Philpott says he’s earned senior status for his devotion to the sport.

“I’ve been at it so long, Dr. [Carmel] Casey calls me the senior statesman,” Philpott said with a smile.

Looking back, Philpott says the ability to socialize and make friends through the Special Olympics is what he has come to enjoy most.

Harris will also be partaking in the running long jump, as well as the 100, 200 and 400m track races. Her trip to Antigonish will be her fifth competition at the nationals, but Harris was also at the 2017 world’s competition in Austria. For her, this opportunity to travel and see so many parts of the world is her favorite aspect of the games.

Brown also had her own experience in a world’s competition, taking part in the snowshoeing category in Japan in 2005. Brown’s drive to continue participating in the Special Olympics is her love of competing.

“I’m just really competitive, that’s what makes me want to do it,” she said.

In the upcoming game Brown is partaking in the 200m breast stroke, individual medley and 400m freestyle. She’s particularly fond of the butterfly stroke.

“I love the butterfly stroke because it’s challenging and it’s just fun,” she said. “Everyone else I swim with doesn’t like it, but I love it – I always like the harder things rather than the easy strokes.”

When the challenges of training get tough for Harris, she keeps a yellow rope close by. She says simply having the rope in hand gives her the strength to keep striving.

“There’s a piece of yellow rope we all have. When I feel like I’m starting to get tired, I grab the rope and I keep going,” Harris said. “We recently had to do 12 sets of one exercise and when I was on the eleventh one I said ‘Okay, time to get my rope’, and then I booted it.”

The pieces of rope were given to each athlete to symbolize the unity that all the team members share.

With so much experience backing them up, the athletes are both confidant and determined for the games in Antigonish – with all their hearts set on success.

“All three of them are really dedicated athletes,” said Mercer. “We’re certainly proud of them.”

kyle.greenham@ganderbeacon.ca

 

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