LOWER HARMONY – Matthew Hunter will soon have his chance to shine on the world stage at home.
Hunter is one of hundreds of participants in the 8th annual DSISO Down Syndrome World Swimming Championships, coming to the Rath Eastlink Community Centre (RECC) from July 20 to 26.
“I’ve been swimming for about 20 years,” said Hunter, 30, of Lower Harmony. “In the sport, it’s very competitive.”
Hunter began swimming through a Canadian Red Cross program. Since then, he’s competed numerous times at the world stage, coming home with a variety of medals including bronze in Mexico and a relay team bronze in Italy.
The games will feature about 400 participants from roughly 30 countries. Hunter’s good friend, Jonathan Henry, will be competing. Henry is originally from Truro but now lives in Moncton.
Hunter’s father, Jol, said it’s only logical that the next competition his son competes in be held in Truro.
“When you think about it – Athens, Mexico, Los Angeles, Florence… Truro is a natural fit,” said Jol. “These games wouldn’t be here if there was no Matthew. The community has supported him through the last 30 years, and this is a way for him to give back.”
Nick Sharpe, from the RECC, and Tanya Colburne, of Langille and Colburne More Than Events, are co-chairpersons of the organizing committee. Sharpe said it was Jol who approached the RECC about possibly hosting the championships.
“Matthew has participated in this event in previous years, traveling around the world,” said Sharpe. “Jol has been there and brought the opportunity to us. We have to thank Jol, primarily, for making us aware of this opportunity.”
For the last six years, Miranda Bates has been Hunter’s coach through the Truro Centurions Swim Club. Hunter, she said, is a driven and serious athlete, taking pride in both his training and accomplishments.
“I often tell folks that he is the fittest man in town as he complements his six to nine practices a week in the pool with strength training, cross-country running, and other physical activities,” she said.
Bates said she’s both excited and happy for Hunter to be able to compete at this level in his home pool, having participated in this event in other host countries throughout their tenure.
“I believe that this event will cast a bright spotlight on the inclusive nature of our sport and the abilities of those with Down syndrome as a whole. Truro is lucky to be the first Canadian venue for this championship and the RECC and More Than Events should be commended on how well they are organizing it,” she said.
Sharpe said the RECC aims to be inclusive and this event can be “a catalyst to promote inclusion.”
“And having Matthew here as a local champion is also something we considered,” he added.
Sharpe said Hunter’s mother, Maura, is involved with Special Olympics locally and promotes inclusion, and always speaks on how swimming has changed her son’s life, giving him opportunities he may never have had otherwise.
“We wanted to be part of building on that,” admitted Sharpe.
The week-long event will feature a total of 57 different competitive events. It will kick off July 20 with an opening ceremony at 7 p.m. at the Civic Square, with athletes participating in a march, as well as entertainment, food, and vendors. Makayla Lynn will perform, as will Squid, and many of the vendors will be merchants also with Down syndrome.
Competition begins July 21, and ends July 26. Athletes will have a rest and social day on July 23, where they and their families are able to choose from a list of activities to showcase the best of Colchester, and beyond.
Hunter will be competing in the 800m, 1500m, 400m freestyle events, butterfly events, and possibly relays as well.
Mike MacGillivray, who has worked with Hunter off and on over the years, said he signed up as a volunteer as soon as he heard the event would be in Colchester County.
“I think it’s absolutely awesome,” he said, from the deck of the Wilsons Aquatic Centre at the RECC.
Having seen Hunter in the water, MacGillivray said he’s “always been a hugely strong swimmer” and thinks he will do well at this competition.
“About three years back, he started swimming (at practice) and the younger swimmers got out and watched him do about an hour straight of butterfly. He’s a hugely strong swimmer and has been before the Olympics. I’ll absolutely be cheering him on. He works hard, he really does.”
Colburne said the province conducted an economic impact study prior to the event and it’s estimated the event will bring a $1.5 million impact to the province.
The championships will conclude with the closing ceremonies on July 26, which will include a dance for the athletes. Trophies will also be given out during the closing ceremonies and musicians Big Fish will perform.
“In my experience, for these types of events, it’s the best part,” Colburne said about the closing ceremony and dance. “They love it. It’s a great way to bring them together and celebrate what just happened.”
Sharpe and Colburne said bringing events of this caliber, including others such as the World Jr. A Hockey Championships and the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling, is giving them a chance to build a legacy for the future.
It’s local organizations like the Truro Centurions Swim Club, of which Hunter is a member, and Bright Skies, which is now under the RECC’s umbrella, that can benefit in the future.
“These large events give us the capacity to invest in future events,” said Sharpe. “It’s always an investment in the community and we always aim to have the funds to continue to identify and secure these different opportunities.”
While looking at registration numbers a month before the event, Sharpe said 27 teams had signed up, which has increased over the years, he said.
“This event is growing, and we expect to have one of the bigger delegations than previous championships,” he said. “We’ve heard from several teams already and they say this is the biggest thing they’re bringing to the event, and one of those teams is Canada. It’s not just about growing the sport here, but growing it across Canada and the world.”
For more information on the event, including the competition schedule, visit https://www.dswsc2018.com/.