Brandon Park's mother calls autism her son's 'ability'
There’s a look of happiness about Brandon Park his mom Lisa Burridge sees whenever he puts on a pair of speed skates.
“He’s just excited. It’s like it comes natural to him,” she said. “He just does his thing and he seems happy.”
Park, 25, has autism. He’s the only speed skater on Team Newfoundland and Labrador who will compete at the 2020 Special Olympics Canada Winter Games in Thunder Bay, Ont., in February.
He has been involved with Special Olympics as part of the Corner Brook Vikings for the last seven years.
When he first joined Special Olympics, Park was still in school but was becoming disinterested. Burridge knew he needed some other social activity outside of his family.
“Socially he just never had that team sports thing growing up.”
Living in McIvers, there was some hesitation to get involved in Special Olympics because of the inevitable amount of travel. She put that aside and Park soon started going to bowling.
“Within a year he was going up and sitting with his team. We no longer needed to prompt him as much.”
And while he often doesn’t say very much, Burridge said he was responding to people and becoming a little more sociable.
“That’s the disability and I guess the autism is the ability.” - Lisa Burridge
He now has a lot of friends and acquaintances she said never would have happened if he hadn’t joined Special Olympics.
The experience has also inspired Burridge and her husband, Joe Park, to let him be involved in more social and sports activities.
It can be difficult at times because Park is an insulin-dependent diabetic.
“That’s the disability and I guess the autism is the ability,” said Burridge.
Park started speed skating about two years before the 2016 Special Olympics Canada Winter Games were held in Corner Brook.
In preparation for the games, the group checked with its participants to see who was interested in what sports. Park has always skated with his family, so Burridge suggested speed skating and he was lined up with the Humber Valley Speed Skating Club.
“He put on the skates, and he jumped on the ice and away to go.”
Park went on to medal — one gold and three silvers — in the four events he skated in at the 2016 Games.
“He can be fast when he wants to,” said Burridge with a laugh.
Both mom and son are excited for the February Games. Burridge said he may be a little more anxious this time as he knows what to expect and because competing at the national level is more intense with training and staying healthy.
Burridge is a volunteer with the organization and she’ll be making the trip to Thunder Bay as her son’s speed skating coach.
He’ll also have a contingent of fans — including his dad and grandparents — along for the ride.