By Sam Cortes, Communications Coordinator
Team Canada Has Arrived
Eight powerlifters from across Canada traveled to Germany with their Head Coach Jeff Butt (NL), Assistant Coach and Sport Manitoba Performance Centre’s Jacquie Mazur (MB), and Mission Staff Duane Carson (ON) to compete at the 2023 Special Olympics World Games.
Josée Séguin (ON)
Marley Gayler (ON)
Reetu Chahal (MB)
Phil Brown (NS)
Aaron Higgins (SK)
David Nicholson (AB)
Daniel Moores (NL)
Ryan Kealey (BC)
“The city [of Munich] welcomed us to Germany, and helped us adjust to the time change. It really allowed us to bond all together as Special O Team Canada, because prior to arriving in Germany, we only had two weekends together as a team,” said Jacquie.
A few days later, they touched down in Berlin and the vibrancy of Games came to life. Taking in the city sights, the hotel, and watching the crowds and teams from other countries assemble all added to the adrenaline that was bubbling up in everyone.
“You could really tell everyone was starting to get excited for opening ceremonies and for competition to begin. It was so fun to have people passing by on the street yelling ‘Go Canada!’ and cheering our athletes on as we walked by.”
An Energy Unmatched
After the opening ceremonies, it was time to hone their focus on the competition.
Jacquie was still a bit nervous about it all, even after months and months of preparation, including professional development courses and getting to know her athletes really well over Zoom. After all, this was her first time coaching at a world games, and she was one of the youngest on Team Canada’s staff.
“My nine years of coaching Special O was nothing compared to some of the people who have been coaching for 20-30 years. So I was like, ‘Oh man, am I even qualified for this? This seems crazy.’”
But something happened to that nervous energy when she stepped foot in the gym.
“It was like coming home. As soon as I saw the competition space, I was like, ‘Okay, we’re here, let’s rock and roll.’”
The first-ever female coach at these Games, too, Jacquie was proud to be alongside other female coaches from other countries.
“I think it bodes well for females in the sport of powerlifting. It’s definitely very male-dominated, but I think to me, the more times both athletes and coaches see a female up there, that gives them the confidence to apply for a position or learn that going to world games is even a possibility.”
“I almost cried so many times,” said Jacquie. “One of our athletes, David, said ‘This is a dream come true for me to be on Team Canada and to get to compete’. He came away with three golds and one silver medal and I was in tears when he was getting interviewed by ESPN. He was so happy. You could just see the excitement on his face. It was wonderful.”
David’s accomplishments counted toward the total of an outstanding 31 medals for the team: 15 gold, nine silver, and seven bronze.
Check out detailed results in powerlifting here.
Kindness Doesn’t Cost Anything
Sport, of course, has an inherent element of competition, especially at the higher levels. Athletes and coaches work hard for a spot on the podium.
But there is also an element at multi-sport events like the Special Olympics World Games that is grounded in people coming together for a greater purpose.
In one instance, there was an athlete from another country whose coach was sick on his competition day.
“He didn’t have a coach. A volunteer who didn’t know a ton about powerlifting had to step in to coach him. So Jeff and I helped [the athlete] choose weights and have success based on what we saw him lifting,” said Jacquie.
“It just reminds you that kindness doesn’t cost anything. You can always be kind and helpful to other people and it’s always a good, humbling reminder in life.“
Jacquie said this willingness to help each other and support one another as athletes, coaches, and volunteers wasn’t isolated to this example.
“I think in today’s world that doesn’t always happen. It’s just such a wonderful, supportive environment to be in, and it makes you want to continue to bring that energy into your everyday life.”
The Multifaceted Role of a Coach
Looking back on the competitions and the emotional peaks and valleys, Jacquie came away with an abundance of coaching knowledge on the technical side of things.
For example, at every powerlifting meet, there’s so much going on. You’re strategizing what the athlete is going to do and it’s not just based on the weight they lift.
“There’s also their body weight, who else is in their weight class and division, and what do you need to do in order to give your athlete the best chance at success. Myself and the head coach had to work together quite a bit in order to try and come out on top, so that our athlete would place higher, or to keep them in a game if there was one athlete who was dominating. I learned a lot from Jeff and how he is so calm and collected, but calculated in powerlifting competitions. I hope that’s how I come off, too, and that’s how I’ll hope to be in the future.”
Outside of the performance spotlight, there is arguably even more to learn as a coach.
Each athlete competes for one day – one day out of the two-and-a-half weeks you’re away together as a team, which demands an entirely different side of coaching that can only really be understood through experience.
“Knowing your athletes as humans first, that’s kind of always been my philosophy in coaching, but I feel it was really solidified there,” said Jacquie.
“For the rest of that time, you’re figuring out what their limit is for a day. When do they get tired? What do they need? How do you keep them happy? What do they like to talk about? When do they hit a wall? What makes them motivated in a day? How do you calm them down when they’re upset? And how do you reel them back in when they’re having a tough time performing? The technical aspect comes into play one day out of [the more than] 20 [days] that you’re gone for each athlete. It really solidifies that you can be technically a very strong coach, but if you can’t build relationships with who you coach, ultimately you won’t have success as a team.”
Memories For a Lifetime
Nearing the end of the trip, with a collection of medals and a buzz around Team Canada’s powerlifting team, it was time to toast to their experience with a meal.
“Once everybody was done lifting, we had a celebratory meal at Five Guys and everybody crushed burgers and french fries and milkshakes. Nobody was worried about their weight class anymore, so we all let loose!” Jacquie said, laughing. “Our team always had tons of fun together even if we were just walking around our venue, training, or on a bus.”
For Jacquie, watching the athletes compete, do their thing, and enjoy the experience in Germany makes it all worth it.
“You’re a coach and you volunteer your time, but they as athletes teach you so much. To see them get on stage and lift and push themselves is incredible, especially when they are in an unfamiliar environment and faced with challenges they may not experience at home.”