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Special Olympics BC helps local family

Program looking to grow for fall session

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Every day Soskay Matsunaga gets is a miracle.

The seven-year-old Cheakamus resident wasn't expected to live past infancy after being born with a congenital heart defect and Down syndrome, but now that he's making progress, Matsunaga is prepared to drink life in.

Last year, he took a big step when he entered Special Olympics BC programming with volunteer coach Stephen Suckling.

"I'd heard about Special Olympics but I didn't really know what it was, exactly," Matsunaga's mother Akiho said. "I thought it was more teens and older people involved in Special Olympics, but I didn't know they (had programming for) younger kids, too."

Akiho had looked into getting Soskay involved in physical activity like soccer or gymnastics, but because of his special needs, found it difficult to pin down what might be the best fit for him. However, after hearing about Special Olympics, she jumped at the chance to get him active in an environment well suited for him.

Suckling said Soskay is currently taking the Active Start program, Special Olympics' base program for athletes aged two to six. The next step is Fundamentals, for those seven to 11, which builds on those skills further.

"The focus is on motor skills, basic movements and physical literacy to then build confidence so that if he is interested in playing soccer down the road, he's got that kicking motion and the running motion already sorted out," Suckling said. "We'll usually start with little obstacle courses, jumping with two feet, throwing a ball, kicking a ball."

Akiho said Soskay, the program's lone participant, regularly practiced the two-foot jump outside of the sessions, but she also saw other benefits in his everyday life.

"He couldn't walk down slopes really well, but now he was trying to jump down it. It was a big thing," she said.

While Suckling has a plan set up at the start of each session, he added that it's important to roll with how his students might be feeling on any given day.

"The other day, I came in and (Soskay) was already bouncing the ball, so I instantly adapted to that. He was already focused on bouncing the ball, so we just ran with that," Suckling said.

Suckling said the practices have been held at Myrtle Philip Community School on Sundays at 1 p.m. in past years, but at press time, he hadn't committed to a time or venue for the next session, which he anticipates will begin in November. Registration for the entire 12-week program is $25. Suckling noted updates and discussions will be posted to the Special Olympics BC – Whistler Valley page on Facebook, though those interested can also email him at sucklingstephen@gmail.com. Both he and Matsunaga said they're flexible on dates and times if Sundays aren't possible for other families.

In addition to the physical benefits of the program, if other families join, the social aspects could be magnified as well.

"To network with other families is always handy," Suckling said.

Matsunaga said she saw a change in her son after just the first session.

"After the first session, every time I pass the highway at Lorimer Road, he says 'Turn here, turn here,' (to Myrtle Philip Community School)," she said.

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