The West Coast is cheering local track star Maxtin Lengyel whose tenacious training yielded two well-deserved medals at the Special Olympics Canada Summer Games.
Lengyel is the first local Special Olympian to compete at the national event, which was held in Antigonish, N.S., from July 31 to Aug. 4.
He earned a gold medal in the 200 metre race and a silver medal as part of Team B.C.’s four-member relay team.
The 16 year-old was thrilled to secure a gold medal by finishing the 200-metre race in just 30.17 seconds, a personal best.
“It was the fastest I have ever ran,” Lengyel told the Westerly News from his family’s hotel room on Monday night. “I felt very strong.”
He said he was both nervous and excited to compete at the event and had a tough time acclimatizing to the “very humid” east coast heat.
“I was drinking lots of water and running my hardest,” he said adding crossing the finish line first was a thrilling experience. “I was very excited because I won a gold medal and I loved it…I pushed myself training for this and that helped me win in the race.”
Lengyel said he enjoyed meeting other Special Olympians and learning from their coaches and that he’s bringing valuable training tips home with him to continue his training.
“They were very nice people,” he said adding he was proud to represent his home towns on the West Coast, who rallied around him during his training and helped fundraise for his trip to Antigonish.
“I was very excited and happy that I was representing the West Coast,” he said.
“I would like to thank the West Coast, my Mom and everybody who helped… it was very fun going to this.”
Lengyel’s mom Jacqueline Holliday said she and husband Dale were delighted to watch their son compete nationally and ecstatic to see him perform so well.
“When he got that [gold medal], it was this enormous relief that he got to games and was able to feel that success,” she said. “We were absolutely stoked. I actually burst into tears and then this lady from Quebec that was beside us, she’s like, ‘I’m crying and I don’t even know who he is.'”
She said emotional experiences abounded as family members cheered on their athletes alongside each other.
“We met parents from all over the country. We became tight with a couple that were from Alberta and it was nice to be able to share experiences,” she said. “It was nice to be part of that community.”
She added the experience exposed Lengyel to other national level coaches and athletes.
“It was an amazing and emotional experience…You just kind of go, ‘Holy crap, the kid is competing on a national level.’ We were really excited,” she said adding that, at just 16 years old, Lengyel’s Olympic future is shining brightly. “The next four years for Maxtin is going to be an even bigger growing experience,” she said. “Now we know more about what to do for training and how to prepare for the next one.”
She said the family’s experience was boosted by the passion the Antigonish community put into hosting the event.
“It was unbelievable the amount of support that the athletes were all getting,” she said. “Everywhere in Antigonish were posters about the Special Olympics happening and locals were trying to support all the athletes as well.”
She expressed tremendous gratitude to Port Alberni’s Special Olympic track coach Mike Riddalls, who travelled to the West Coast to train Lengyel and to local trainer Kara Stevens who approached the family last year expressing a desire to work with the Special Olympian.
“She helped him grow and all the training she did was incredible,” Holliday said of Stevens.
She said Lengyel’s employer at West Coast Aquatic Safaris didn’t hesitate to give him time off to compete at the event and that Lengyel received “overwhelming support” from his West Coast communities.
“People were there to really help support him, not just financially, but with the high fives and the, ‘Go Max!’ and seeing him at the track and cheering him on while he was training was just emotional and awesome,” she said. “We’re so grateful for all the help from everybody on the West Coast.”
The family plans to spend a few extra days soaking in the experience before Lengyel returns home to a hero’s welcome.
“When would Max and our family ever have come to the east coast? We can all say we have dipped our feet [and] swam in both the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean,” Holliday said. “All because Max worked hard and was given this amazing opportunity.”