An Orléans man is the only eastern Ontario special Olympian to be travelling to the Special Olympics World Winter Games in South Korea.
For Jacob Mathews, 24, years of competitions have paid off as he heads to South Korea on Jan. 24 to compete in snowshoeing.
In a four year cycle, Mathews had to qualify at the Eastern Ontario regional championship several years ago, then provincials, before the 2012 national games, which served as the world games qualifier.
“It’s very hard to get picked for world games,” Mathews said. “You have to go to a lot of competitions.”
He’s been competing in the snowshoeing event for 10 years, but has also competed at the national games in swimming and five pin bowling.
His medal count for snowshoeing far outnumbers his other medals, so snowshoeing is the sport he’s pursued.
It helps that he’s got a close connection with his coach – his mother, Rachel Mathews, who was also selected to travel to South Korea as one of the snowshoe team coaches.
The pair will be heading to PyeongChang in South Korea for the Jan. 29 to Feb. 5 events, where they’ll stay for two weeks, competing at the same venue as the 2018 Olympic Winter Games, the Alpensia Biathalon Centre.
Over 120 countries compete in the Special Olympics World Winter Games and Mathews has been training intensely to try and win a medal.
The athletes are divided up after the preliminary round, and put into groups with similar finish times. Each group then has their own medal winners.
To improve his personal best times in his events, the 1,600- and 800-metre cross-country races and the 4x100 metre relay, Mathews trains several different ways throughout the week.
He swims once a week, completes strength workouts with a personal trainer two times a week, runs track several days a week and snowshoes once or twice a week as well. In the summer, he’s even trained in the sand at Petrie Island.
He ramped up his training this summer, including running, which he found different than snowshoeing around a track.
At first, one lap around the track was difficult, but by the end of the summer he was able to run 10 kilometres.
“You need that kind of endurance so you don’t run out of gas,” Rachel Mathews said. “He’s big and strong and his legs are long.”
The 6-foot-4 Mathews said he enjoys snowshoeing because it’s ‘easygoing’ and he enjoys team training sessions, especially snowshoe soccer.
All the travel associated with competing has been a benefit for the outgoing athlete.
“I like to travel to the competitions because there are all sorts of places you can go,” he said.
After training camps took him to Canmore, Alta. and Toronto, he is excited to travel to South Korea. He has his guidebooks and phrase books ready to go, and has done research on the country ahead of time.
He’ll be taking some time off work from his two jobs in Orléans, at Home Depot and Metro to travel, but he hasn’t lost sight of the upcoming competition.
If he were to give advice to younger special Olympians, he would tell them, “Train hard, it’s worth it,” he said.
And bringing home a medal is a family affair for the Mathews.
“I’ve just watched these athletes develop and you can see the change from year to year,” Rachel Mathews said. “To have the two of us together is something special.”