GRAND BANK, N.L. — Special Olympian Justin Dodge was speechless as he unveiled a new highway sign at the entrance to Grand Bank and saw his smiling face looking back at him.
“It’s blowing my mind,” Dodge said. “I was like holy cow.”
Dodge said people made an effort to keep the event a surprise.
“I was banned from Facebook all day,” he said with a chuckle.
The unveiling event was held on Tuesday, June 12.
In March of 2017 Dodge took part in the World Special Olympics Winter Games in Austria.
Dodge and his teammates — Matthew Cormier, Peter Snider and Tony Wilkinson beat out teams from Finland, Japan and the United States to win gold in the 4x400-metre snowshoe relay.
He also placed fourth in the 100-metre and 200-metre snowshoe races.
Dodge said he continues to train, but he also works, so it’s an effort to fit the time for both into his schedule.
“I work mostly eight-nine hour shifts, so it’s kind of hard like that,” he said. “You get two days off, it’s hard.”
Dodge intends to attend the snowshoe qualifying event to be held next year.
“I am definitely going to try and do the best that I can,” he said.
Justin’s teammates and coaches from the Grand Bank-Fortune Seahawk Special Olympics program were in attendance to help celebrate the sign unveiling with him.
“I think they’re proud of me,” Dodge said of his teammates.
He added, “I know I certainly am proud of myself.”
Grand Bank photographer Travis Parson took the picture for the sign not long after Dodge returned from Austria.
Barbara Barnes, the teams coach, said Dodge is deserving of the honour.
“It couldn’t of gone to a better person,” she said. “He worked hard, (and was) so dedicated.
“I never seen anybody so dedicated before during the year-long training. He actually did train on snowshoes in the grass up at the soccer field.”
She added that he also watched what he ate and gave up drinking pop.
“When you go into the provincial meets and training camps (the athletes) make promises to give up certain…junk food…he promised he would and he did, he lost over 50 pounds when he trained in that year,” Barnes said.
She noted the team is very supportive of one another.
Town behind Dodge
Grand Bank Mayor Rex Matthews said it was long overdue getting the sigh erected for Dodge.
“It has been a work in progress for a little bit too long cause we should have had this done in 2017,” Matthews said. “We had some issues that we had to deal with in respect to where the sign could go to.”
Matthews commends the job done by the town’s recreation commission on getting the sign made and placed.
“They did a lot of work on this particular project, and our recreation director Tommy (Burton),” he said.
Matthews added that the Town of Grand Bank is proud of Dodge’s accomplishments.
“You don’t get the opportunity very often to recognize someone in your community, especially a small rural community, who achieves what Justin has achieved as a Special Olympian,” the Mayor said. “We’re proud of him, we’re proud of the people that coach him and support him like the community do(es), I think it’s been a great event for Grand Bank.”
Matthews was happy to see so many people come out to celebrate Dodge’s achievement.
Cecilia Dodge, Justin’s stepmother, thanked the Town of Grand Bank, as well as members of the community for their continued support.
“To see this, for the town to (have) done this for him, I really appreciate it,” she said.
Cecilia added that she only wished her parents could be there to see it, but due to health issues they were unable to attend.
“They were very great supporters of Justin.”