New Brunswick

Speed is key for Fredericton's Special Olympics swimmer Jesse Canney

Special Olympian Jesse Canney will be putting his speed to good use in the pool when he begins competition at the Special Olympics World Games in Dubai today.

Swimmer with autism will compete in four events at world games in Dubai

Jesse Canney's coaches say he's a well-rounded swimmer who can be competitive in every event. (Jesse Canney/Facebook)

Jesse Canney will put his speed to good use in the pool when competition begins at the Special Olympics World Games in Dubai today.

The Fredericton man, who has already won dozens of medals and holds several competitive records, will compete in the 400, 800 and 1500 metre freestyle events as well as on the relay team. 

Carney, 22, lives with autism. His mother, Pam Moxon, said swimming helped her son become the person he is today. 

Swimming helped speed

From left, Special Olympics coach, Carla Dueck; Special Olympics swimmer, Jesse Canney; his mother, Pam Moxon; and FAST coach, Marta Belsh. (Philip Drost/CBC)
Canney's swimming career began at age six. Moxon, looking for a way to channel his speed and ability to take off quickly, sometimes at risk to himself, put him in private lessons.

"As a toddler … he was a safety risk at all times," she said. "We had to have a body harness for him because he would just take off on you at all times, and as he got older he gradually outgrew that."

Diagnosed with non-verbal autism when he a year old, Moxon said it was difficult for him to be in big groups.

By the time he was was 11, Moxon had put Canney in the Special Olympics program and he came home with a few medals from his first competition.

FAST team for fast swimmer

At the suggestion of one of the Special Olympic coaches, Canney started swimming with the local swim team — the Fredericton Aquanauts Swim Team, or FAST.

Moxon and his coaches say the team name is perfect for Canney.

With his speed in the pool, Canney has beaten almost every record in his disability category, won lots of medals at different meets and was a star for Team New Brunswick at the Canada Games in 2017, winning three medals.

"Jesse has been a pretty well-rounded swimmer," said FAST coach Marta Belsh. "He's capable of swimming all the events that we have in the competitive swimming."

She describes him as a natural who prefers the freestyle, or front crawl, but is perfectly capable in the butterfly, backstroke, breastroke and individual medley events.

"He does seem to prefer long distances, like the 400, and the 800, and the 1500 and he definitely excels in those events for sure." 

Committed to sport

Jesse Canney will compete in four swimming events at the Special Olympics World Games in Dubai. (Jesse Canney/Facebook)
Canney has also won medals and broken records in the shorter events, and in competition with against non-disabled swimmers.

His training regimen consists of eight practices a week with FAST, three personal training sessions every week and one dedicated Special Olympics practice a week. ​​​​​​

His Special Olympics coach, Carla Dueck, says Jesse never gloats when he wins — which is often. 

She says Canney sets a good example for the other Special Olympic athletes, and she considers him a role model.

"The other athletes definitely look up to him and say, 'Oh my goodness, I'm competing against the best now,' so it's really amazing to see how he handles that," she said.  

'Sees his ability'

Jesse Canney said he was excited to be competing at the Special Olympics World Games in Dubai. (Jesse Canney/Facebook)
Dueck said swimming is a way for Canney to show people that he's much more than just his disability.

​​​​​​"I think he can tell himself that he excels at it, and he can put effort towards that and knows that he's actually achieving something, and I think that makes him feel good, it makes him grow as a person," she said. 

While it's not the first time Canney has travelled to another country to compete, it will be the furthest he's ever gone. He is among 7,000 athletes from 190 countries there to take part and he will be trying to qualify for the 2020 Special Olympics in Tokyo. 

With files from Philip Drost


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