'Hometown hero' helps bring international Down syndrome swim event to Truro
Truro, N.S., is bustling with athletes and their families from around the world this week, as it plays host to the Down Syndrome World Swimming Championships.
It's the first time the international competition has ever been held in Canada and organizers credit the family of a local swimmer for helping bring the event to the town.
Matthew Hunter, 30, has been swimming for more than 20 years, including as a member of the Special Olympics and other swim teams. He has Down syndrome and has travelled to six other world swimming championships in past years, but this time is unique.
"This is [my] hometown facility here," he explained following his 800-metre race Sunday.
Hunter has competed in Los Angeles, Athens, Mexico and twice in Italy. He has overcome many struggles as a competitive swimmer and enjoys the challenge of the sport.
"We have built motivation; we have goals," he said.
His father, Jol Hunter, was the first to suggest the idea of bringing the championships to the Rath Eastlink Community Centre, more than two years ago.
"This community has nurtured [Matthew] for 30 years, and this is his gift back. If he wasn't here, the championships wouldn't be here," he said.
Jol Hunter said the championships have the power to inspire others and show what's possible. The 250 athletes have "trained as hard as any athletes in any sport for a world championship," he said.
"You can see how fit and strong they are, and hopefully that shows folks what the possibilities are, and helps motivate other people," he said.
"Sometimes, whether it's Down syndrome or anything else, we sometimes underestimate people's capabilities. With a little support and a little encouragement and a little bit of determination, we can achieve all sorts of things."
2 years of planning for event
Nick Sharpe, a co-chair of the local organizing committee, said it took about two years of hard work and the efforts of many volunteers to bring the event to Truro. Many in the community pitched in out of affection for Matthew Hunter.
"It's a really big deal," Sharpe said. "I'm just looking forward to watching Matthew swim his events. A lot of people are rallying behind him. He's the hometown hero, and I want to see him do really well."
Local hotels and restaurants are doing a brisk business supporting approximately 1,000 athletes, coaches, and family members who have travelled to the area for the competition.
Six charter buses are carrying athletes around town and to recreational events around Colchester County.
"We haven't hosted an event of this magnitude in Truro," said Tanya Colburne, the other co-chair of local organizing committee. "We've had massive events, no question, but this one has more people than we've seen."
Colburne said she also likes seeing athletes and their families exploring the town.
"It creates a vibe, and it's pretty special. Our community is benefiting in every way, and I can only hope the same is true for these folks, that the experience has been a good one," she said.
The championships continue until Thursday, Jul. 26.
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