Special Olympics gives competitor a lift

Lee McCook is ready to lift at next month’s Special Olympics BC Summer Games which will be held in Langley from July 11 to 14. - Gary Ahuja/Langley Times
Lee McCook is ready to lift at next month’s Special Olympics BC Summer Games which will be held in Langley from July 11 to 14.
— image credit: Gary Ahuja/Langley Times

While people always talk about how sports  saved someone’s life, that really is the case with Lee McCook.

Five years ago, McCook was stricken by bilateral pneumonia.

McCook was in the hospital on a ventilator and in a coma and things looked grave.

“We thought we had lost him a couple of times,” admitted his mom, Anne.

The doctors told his parents Anne and Dave that, had their son not been in good physical shape, there was a very strong possibility he may not have made it.

“The doctor said if he hadn’t been as fit as he was, he probably would not have pulled through,” Anne recalled.

The fitness level comes from McCook’s long involvement with the B.C. Special Olympics program.

“It has always helped him with his fitness,” Anne explained.

“People with Down syndrome tend to put weight on and they have poor muscle tone, so that helped him a lot.”

McCook, who turns 38 on July 1, has been involved with the Special Olympics program for the past 30 years.

In fact, he took part in the very first Special Olympics BC Games, which were held at UBC in 1984.

At that event, an eight-year-old McCook ran side-by-side with former NHL hockey player Dave ‘Tiger’ Williams, who was a member of the Vancouver Canucks at that point in his career.

The Games are for McCook — and the thousands of other Special Olympics competitors just like him — a chance to be competitive, build friendships and experience some camaraderie with their fellow athletes.

“We turned to Special Olympics because you are included and there is no judgement,” Anne said.

McCook, who has quite the competitive streak, keeps active with a variety of sports, such as soccer, swimming, bowling, hockey, and power lifting.

McCook, an avid wrestling fan — Jon Cena is his favourite — has long wanted to participate in the sport.

“He has wanted to power lift since we moved to Langley 15 years ago, but they never had a coach for the longest while,” Anne explained.

That changed two years when the sport was offered in Langley two years ago.

So just how excited was McCook, on a scale of one to 10, when he finally got the chance to do the sport?

He answered a resounding “15.”

McCook competes in the bench press and dead lift events and that will be the sport he competes in next month as the 2013 Special Olympics BC Summer Games are held in Langley (July 11 to 14).

“I am looking forward to winning gold medals,” said McCook.

Win or lose, his parents love the effect Special Olympics has had on their son.

While children may play organized sports in their younger years, those with developmental disabilities or special needs find it harder to play as they get older.

Special Olympics fills that void.

“It is an outlet where (the athletes) are not judged,” Anne said.

“And it is a good outlet for all the athletes; it is somewhere where they can excel at their level.

“They don’t have to be superstars.”

And while in year’s past, Special Olympics used to be more about just the participation, that is changing as the athletes become more and more competitive.

“They are getting feedback and direction and camaraderie,” added Dave.

“It also gives them self-confidence and teaches them to share and all of the kinds of values we want to instill in our kids.”

“It is also a lot of good self-esteem,” Anne said.

“If they are doing something well, and are told by their coach, it makes them feel great.”

The McCooks have gradually scaled back their involvement as long-time volunteers and instead shifted their focus and efforts into helping their son adjust to semi-independent living.

Lee lives in a townhouse, with a roommate, just across the park from his parents in Murrayville.

He also works at the local IGA three days a week.

“We want to see him managing when we are not around anymore,” said Anne.

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