By Justin Davis
Whether you are a competitor, a spectator or a coach, sports tend to have a positive effect on people. The opportunities that it provides can bring out the best in people and make them more confident in who they are. Justin Thompson of Strathmore, Alberta, has proven this to be the case.
At 20 years old, Thompson is a Special Olympian athlete who has competed in swimming for the past seven years. Taking part in swimming has changed him for the better in many aspects of life. It has allowed him to overcome obstacles within himself and to achieve excellence both in the pool and out.
“Before I entered competitive swimming, I was shy and didn’t really have a way of making new friends,” says Thompson. “I am now more outgoing and I have more confidence in myself as a person and as a swimmer.”
Recently, he took part in the 2019 Special Olympic World Games in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. To say he had a successful outing would be an understatement. In the individual 25-meter freestyle, he won a gold medal. To add to that, he took home the gold in the individual backstroke competition. However, while the gold medals were a huge accomplishment, Thompson feels making the event was a much bigger accomplishment and added to his personal development.
“Swimming with my team and at a World Games had a really big and positive impact on my life. Before all that happened, I was shy and not willing to explore anything new,” he said.
Thompson also feels that might be his biggest accomplishment thus far in his career.
“My biggest accomplishment so far either has to be making the World Games and swimming with Team Canada or swimming with a Masters Swim Club at Repsol sport center (CMSC). To accomplish both those things made me feel like a better person and a better swimmer. I had more confidence in myself.”
Taking part in the World Games was a surreal experience for him. And while he didn’t have time to take much in terms of sight-seeing, he developed further on a personal level.
“Usually, I’m pretty nervous about my events before I get in the pool, but at the World Games, I just remember being super calm and not really nervous at all.”
As a result of his gained confidence, Thompson has achieved many accomplishments at a young age. He has won three gold medals (two of which he won in Abu Dhabi), two silver medals and three bronze medals. He has also been awarded the Special Olympics Athlete of the Year, an award that he received in Calgary in 2019. However, through it all, Thompson has remained humble and respectful towards his teammates and opponents alike, especially on days that he accepted his gold medals in Abu Dhabi.
“Nothing went through my mind on the days I won,” Thompson says. “I just remember congratulating the other athletes and thanking my coaches, family, and teammates.”
Despite all his success, Thompson initially had difficulty getting into swimming and struggled to see himself as having a future in it. He credits his grandparents with believing in him and motivating him to give it another try.
“Not any particular reason,” he said on asked why he didn’t enjoy swimming when he first tried it. “I just found a love for the sport when my Nana and Papa saw the potential that I had and pushed me to try that sport again. From there I had great coaches and support that helped me overcome all that.”
With his success in Abu Dhabi, Thompson has his sights set on the 2023 World Games in Germany. He is currently on break but usually in the pool at the Repsol Sport Center. While he tends not to think far ahead in his swimming career, he will resume practicing and training to reach his goal of competing for Team Canada in 2023. While he tends to focus on the present, he is still planning on making the swim team and aiming for more individual and team success.
In sports and life in general, people have moments where they may doubt themselves and second guess what they are doing. Thompson can relate to that feeling and has some solid advice to any athlete that may be feeling that way.
“For the younger athletes out there, I know that where you are at right now is not where you want to be, but you have to keep going, keep pushing yourself to the limit consistently. One of the best things someone ever told me when I was young and wanted to give up was this. They sat me down and said, ‘I know you feel like you are struggling and not getting better, but I have seen big changes since you started and you need to keep going. You will get better. I can’t tell you what day you are going to see the changes that you want but it will come,’ “and that night, I got in the pool and I can honestly say that was the turning point in my career.”
Feature Image Photo Credit: Special Olympics Canada