From the time he was able to walk, nothing stopped Shaughn Connors from racing onto the soccer field to play his favourite sport.
But after the St. John's athlete began packing on extra pounds in recent years, keeping up with his teammates became more of a struggle.
With big dreams of getting selected to the provincial team to compete in the 2018 Special Olympics National Summer Games, he was determined to get back in shape.
“When I first tried out I couldn't run at all," the 26-year-old told The Telegram during an interview at his home in the Goulds. "I knew if I wanted to be on this team, I had to lose weight."
In an effort to help her son, in October of last year, Connors' mother, Susan Whitten, suggested that they both join Weight Watchers.
“Shaughn embraced it,” she said, and he set a goal to lose 50 pounds.
He never missed a weekly meeting with his Weight Watchers group, who cheered him on every step of the way.
"I was really focused," Connors said, smiling.
While following the program, Connors continued to train hard on the field, motivated by his determination to play in his first national Games.
“The more weight I lost, the faster I ran,” said Connors, who had tried twice before to make the team. "The weight had really slowed me down."
Almost a year later, Connors is 57 pounds lighter and is working to lose more. He fulfilled his dream of making the provincial team and proudly displays his national bronze medal, which he won with the provincial team at the Games in Antigonish, N.S., last month — on the day of his birthday.
Connors plays a wide array of other sports and now plans to try out for the provincial floor hockey team that will take part in the 2020 Special Olympics National Winter Games in Thunder Bay, Ont.
“We're so extremely proud of him," said Whitten, who along with her husband, Keith Connors, is an active Special Olympics coach and volunteer. "He set a goal and he stuck to it. He’s much healthier now."
Being involved in Special Olympics has had such an impact on their son's life, she said.
“He was included in a way he never was before. He was just accepted,” said Whitten, whose son first began showing signs of autism as a small child. “They all have issues. They don’t see the issues. They see the person.”
Special Olympics is celebrating its 50th anniversary of programming for athletes with intellectual disabilities.
As part of a fundraising effort for Special Olympics, on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. select Sobeys stores in the metro area are hosting a fall food fair, inspired by Sobeys’ support of Special Olympics, "Eating Like an Athlete." Special Olympic athletes and coaches will be paired in-store with Sobeys employees to hand out health snacks.