Swimmer ready for summer games
Special Olympian Connor Bissett makes great strides in the pool
By: By Alex MacPherson
| Posted: Saturday, Jul 05, 2014 06:00 am
Special Olympics Canada
The Special Olympics Canada Summer Games are being held from July 8 to 12 in Vancouver. One hundred and twenty athletes from 26 communities will represent Alberta.
At 13, short distance swimmer Connor Bissett is the youngest competitor at this year’s Special Olympics Canada Summer Games.
The Whitecourt resident is swimming laps with the Special Olympics St. Albert team at Fountain Park Recreation Centre several times a week to prepare.
“Swimming is a big thing in our household,” said Margo Bissett, Connor’s mother.
Connor was diagnosed as autistic when he was three.
The disorder affects Connor’s communication skills and makes it difficult for him to interact with others.
“He is afraid to speak,” said Bissett. “It can take him a while to put words together, but the great thing is, his coaches always wait for him.”
Bissett is talking about Alice Boll and Rhiannon Dixon, Connor’s swim coaches for the Whitecourt Blue Dolphins swim team.
The effect on Connor has been dramatic.
“He’s turned into a chatterbox,” said Bissett. “He’s just come out of his shell. Everyone that has helped him along the way, it’s really incredible what his coaches have done for him. They’re so patient and understanding, but they push him, too. He can’t wait to get out the door every day and go meet them. He loves it.”
Two thousand athletes just like Connor will compete in the Special Olympics Summer Games in Vancouver next week.
“I’ve seen such a big improvement in his whole life,” said Bissett. “The interaction with his coaches and with the other athletes has given him a chance to meet so many new people.”
When he isn’t practicing, Connor likes to relax and play with his Lego.
“Swim for Lego. That’s what I tell him and you can see his legs kick into another gear,” said Bissett. “He loves Lego Star Wars the most. That’s his favourite kind to build.”
With the help of Special Olympics Canada and the Blue Dolphins swim club, Connor has developed into a serious contender in the water.
“He’s only been swimming regularly since he was 11,” said Bissett. “He’s just 13 and he has already been breaking provincial swimming records. Even if we don’t medal this time we can try again three years from now. He just keeps getting better every day.”
Connor has been a natural athlete his whole life, said Whitecourt Taekwondo Club Master Jim Rennie.
“Connor has been training with us about five or six years now,” said Rennie. “It was very difficult at the beginning for us and for him. But watching him develop and gain confidence over the years has been very rewarding.”
Connor earned his second-degree black belt under Rennie last year.
It’s a promotion that means he can teach the younger students and help the instructors during class.
“He loves helping out,” said Rennie. “Everyone knows Connor and appreciates what he does for us.”
Rennie was excited for Connor’s chances in next week’s competition.
“Connor has always thrived on pressure. Having something to work against really brings out his best. He’s a born competitor.”