Swimmer becomes 1st Special Olympian to win prestigious N.B. Sports Award

A Fredericton swimmer made sport history over the weekend. 

On Saturday, Jesse Canney took home the Sport New Brunswick's Male Athlete of the Year award. The 23-year-old has severe autism and is the first Special Olympian to win the award in the province.

"I trained very hard and I love to swim and compete," Canney said, just before an afternoon swim practice on Sunday. 

This year, Canney also won Male Athlete of the Year for Special Olympics Canada and in New Brunswick.

The New Brunswick athlete won that award in Toronto back in November, where Canney was up against athletes from all across Canada. 

Canney's mom, Pam Moxon, said she's proud of her son's accomplishments.

"There's so many amazing athletes — I was just chilled to the bone that he won," she said.

A love for swimming

Canney's accolades mark the end of a banner year.

In March, he brought home four medals from the World Special Olympic Games in Dubai, three gold and one silver. 

Sport NB CEO, Darcy McKillop said Canney's success is inspiring to athletes across New Brunswick.

"We're starting to see more athletes of all types competing at a much higher level and doing well."

Gary Moore/CBC

McKillop said the award has been given out for more than 25 years. He's thrilled that Canney became the first Special Olympian to win the award. 

When Jesse was growing up, his parents wanted him to get out of his comfort zone.

Team New Brunswick

So the athlete, who lived with his family near a fish pond by the Nashwaak River, started taking private swimming lessons when he was six.

From there, Jesse took swimming classes with the Special Olympics New Brunswick but found he needed something more challenging.

For years, Jesse has been getting up early to make his 5:45 a.m. swim practice with the Fredericton Aquanauts Swim Team, known as FAST. He trains eight times a week in the water and three times at the gym.

Sights set on Tokyo

Canney isn't slowing down any. He has high expectations for next year.

He's hoping to qualify for the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo. But he'll need to shave two seconds off his personal best time. 

Canney's coach, Marta Belsh, said he has an incredible work ethic, and is focused on making it to the Paralympic Games. 

"He never complains, never whines about the work that needs to be done," Belsh said.

Canney will also be travelling to Mexico for a training camp in March, before a competition in April.