Matthew Martin has two reasons to be excited. He’s competing in the 2012 Special Olympics Canada Winter Games in St. Albert, Alta. next week — an is getting an opportunity for him to ride in a plane for the first time.
“This will be my first time out of the province,” said the 16-year-old during an interview at the Reid Centre in Mount Pearl this week.
“I think it’s going to be a good experience. I like the competition.
“And I like the people on my team very much.”
The St. John’s native is the youngest member of the Newfoundland and Labrador team, a right-winger on the floor hockey team.
His abilities in keeping the puck out of the net has earned him the nickname ‘Blocker.’
Special Olympics has taught Matthew a lot about sport and about life. It’s made him more confident, he said.
“I like meeting new people. And we have dances and team get-togethers.”
While the socials are great, the Games open Tuesday, so now it’s time to concentrate on scoring goals.
“We hope to have a good time and be competitive as well,” Matthew said.
Matthew isn’t the only athlete with a nickname. His floor hockey teammate, Leslie Legrow, is known as ‘Grandpa.’
At age 60, Legrow is the oldest member of the provincial team.
“They say I’m a really good defenceman,” Legrow says of the position he plays.
This will be Legrow’s first trip to Alberta, and his ultimate goal is to win gold.
“We practise a lot. You do your best and we hope we win.”
Twenty-seven athletes, seven coaches and seven mission staff are travelling with the provincial team. Athletes represent Special Olympics clubs in Corner Brook, Bay St. George, Gander, St. John’s and Mount Pearl.
The Games, which clew up next Saturday, will attract 1,000 athletes, coaches and mission staff from across the country, in seven sports.
In addition to floor hockey, Newfoundland athletes are also competing in cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and figure skating.
The Games, which are open to athletes with an intellectual disability, help to improve self-confidence, Special Olympics Newfoundland and Labrador (SONL) board chair Kevin Dunphy said.
“Whether by stepping on to the ice or on to the snowshoe track, they now see themselves as athletes who can do so much more,” Dunphy said.
Provincial Special Olympics executive director Trish Williams said the team is hoping to build on its success in the 2010 Canada Summer Games in London, Ont., where the provincial team was the only squad to have every athlete won a medal.
Special Olympics youth development coordinator Jennifer Ryan said figure skater Paolo Paiement is living in Ottawa. He’ll meet up with his teammates in Toronto, she said.
Paiement will be coached by an Ontario figure skating coach, Reid said, but will wear the Newfoundland and Labrador uniform.
Megan Hounsell, 22, will be competing in cross-country skiing, and like most athletes, her goal is to bring home a medal.
“The coaches are nice. They help us a lot. I like swimming, too. I have a lot of medals.”
Jeremy Mueller is participating in snow-shoeing, but is also an avid swimmer. The 28-year-old has already competed in two national championships and the World Summer Games held in North Carolina over a decade ago.
Mueller said the coaches have taught him a lot about himself and about others.
This veteran athlete knows what’s important at the end of each competition.
“Let me win … let me be brave …” he said glancing toward mission staff member Darrin Reid for reassurance.
“Let me win. But, if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt,” Reid said of the Special Olympics motto.
Special Olympics will be hosting a provincial team send-off at Club One on Duckworth St. in St. John’s 6:30-8 p.m. Sunday.