Chilliwack athletes going for gold in Vancouver

Preparing for a lift during training last Thursday at the Chilliwack Landing Leisure Centre, Lisa Newell says she hopes to advance to the Special Olympics World Summer Games 2015 and beyond.  - Greg Laychak
Preparing for a lift during training last Thursday at the Chilliwack Landing Leisure Centre, Lisa Newell says she hopes to advance to the Special Olympics World Summer Games 2015 and beyond.
— image credit: Greg Laychak

When Lisa Newell first tried her hand at sports, she couldn’t keep up with her peers. In fact, she was sometimes asked to not come back.

Newell was at a disadvantage with her teammates and competitors in soccer games and curling matches.

They could see each other, the field, the ice and the instruments involved.

Lisa, however, is blind and has an intellectual disability. And competition is not always kind.

But Newell has come a long way since, finding a niche where she excels.

“I’m doing well,” says the 32-year-old. “I’m heading for the Worlds.”

The long-time Chilliwack resident found powerlifting, and has since gone on to win gold and silver medals in provincial- and national-level Special Olympic Games

And she’s done all of it despite her weakened arm—the result of a brain tumour.

In fact, she brought back silver two weeks ago from a British Columbia Powerlifting Association competition, having hoisted 97.5 kilograms in the women’s deadlift Special Olympic event—a new personal competitive record for Newell.

Though she didn’t take gold this time, her friend and training partner Joanne Bunnin took top prize with a 110-kilogram deadlift.

The pair train together three times a week with their coach Bill Stewart in preparation for the upcoming Special Olympics Canada 2014 Summer Games in Vancouver.

While their four other training partners are taking the summer off, Newell and Bunnin have intensified their practice in an effort to win gold in their home province.

“They’ve come so far, I can’t even remember now where they started,” says coach Stewart. “I remember both of them struggling to lift just the bar in bench press, which is only 45 pounds.”

He’s been working with the girls since they started lifting about a decade ago, but he doesn’t spend much time thinking about the past.

“I’m focused on what they’ve done last week at the last meet, more than what they’ve done since they started,” he says.

And so they get back to the rack at the Chilliwack Landing Leisure Centre Gym, Stewart changing the weights, and the women doing repetitions under their coach’s instruction.

They joke with each other between sets, but soon the barbell is ready and it’s back to business.

Both Newell and Bunnin are focused on next week’s Summer Games, but they also share a more ambitious goal.

If things go well for them in Vancouver, they hope to compete in the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles next year.

Fellow Chilliwack resident Ryan Kuester remembers his trip in 2011 to Athens where he competed in the World games for Canada.

“I was very nervous being the new member on the team,” says Kuester, who looked to more experienced members for advice.

Inexperienced as he was, the 26-year-old swam to victory in the 25-metre freestyle and backstroke races.

Those wins have made Kuester more confident, but he’s still a bit nervous for the Vancouver Games.

“A lot more people are going to be watching and cheering for me,” he says.

But when the buzzer sounds, Kuester says he’ll do what he did in Athens, Greece: focus on the moment and just go.

w The Special Olympics Canada 2014 Summer Games take place at UBC British Columbia July 8 to 12. For more information, including scheduling visit

We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.

You might like ...