It’s 7 p.m. on a Thursday night at the Castlegar Community Complex, and coach Megan Pilla is shouting encouragement at the swimmer in the water.
“Go! Go! Go!” she barks at the youth, in time with his surfacing between breast strokes.
He gets to the end of the lane, and she squats by the poolside to talk to him.
“Good work, but what didn’t you do at the far end?” she asks. “How many hands have to touch the side of the pool?”
“Two,” says Chris Paulson, groaning.
“Two, right, not one,” confirms Pilla. It’s an error that can get Paulson disqualified at the nationals, just a few weeks from now.
It’s a scene that’s been repeated many times in the last year — three years, really, as Paulson has worked his way up the ladder of competition.
At the end of July, he’s heading to the Special Olympics Canada Summer Games in Antigonish, Nova Scotia.
“I am feeling better every day and I am really excited to attend these games,” says the 21-year-old Paulson, “Because it is really fun to compete with everyone else.”
It takes a lot of work and commitment to get to this point. Paulson has had to compete regionally, then provincially, before making it to the national level. And in between the events, there’s a lot of self-discipline.
“It is actually pretty challenging, you have to have a lot of dedication, a lot of heart,” says Pilla. “You have to come to practice at least three times a week, whether in the water or the gym; nutrition is a big thing, you have to eat well; and you have to make sure you get enough sleep. And Chris has shown his dedication over the last three years, and hopefully go for a fourth.”
That fourth is the World Olympics, being held in Abu Dhabi in March 2019. But there’s a lot of work before that, including getting to the podium in Antigonish.
“Since September I’ve been swimming twice a week, about an hour of constant laps, practicing my races, riding the bike in the gym, lifting some weights,” he says. “I think I am going to do well.”
“I think Chris is going to do very well, his effort has paid off,” says Pilla, who has coached Chris in different swim programs since he was a pre-teen. “He’s excited to go, but we’re not really there yet. I think he is going to shine. Once he hits the water it’s ‘I am going to get in there and go.’”
The coach and athlete know each other well, and there’s a lot of joking and laughing between practice races.
“She is fun to have around and coach me,” says Paulson.
“He went from this punk little teenager to this to ‘I’m good to go’ young adult,” says Pilla, laughing. “He has more dedication now, is having fun. This four-year term, he really wants to make it.”
The Special Olympics Canada Summer Games is a national sporting event for competitive athletes with intellectual disabilities.
There are nine sports featured at the Games: athletics, basketball, bocce, golf, rhythmic gymnastics, powerlifting, soccer, softball and swimming.
It is expected that over 3,000 spectators will watch the Games, in addition to over 900 athletes, 290 coaches, officials and mission staff, and 600 volunteers.