For Jesse Canney, swimming was supposed to be just for fun. He never anticipated he would be the first Special Olympian ever to win the New Brunswick Male Athlete of the Year in December of 2019 and the Special Olympics Canada Athlete of the Year.
The 23-year-old from Fredericton started private swimming lessons when he was seven and joined the Special Olympics when he was 11.
“He was like a fish in the water,” Canney’s mother, Pam Moxon said.
“His coach said he had a lot of potential and he should go competitive.”
He’s also brought home medals from the 2019 Special Olympics in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. Canney won three gold medals, as well as a silver.
Canney spends most of his time at the Lady Beaverbrook pool, swimming and training.
But swimming isn’t the only sport Canney dabbles in. He also keeps active outside of the pool, bowling, playing basketball and doing yoga in his free time. If he’s not training in Fredericton, he’s in Saint John swimming in their Olympic-sized pool, where he does his time trials.
Phyllis Humble, an educational assistant who started working with Canney when he was in kindergarten, said she feels honoured to have spent so much time working with him.
“[Canney] is an amazing young man,” Humble said.
“He tries his best at everything he does and is very open to coaching and suggestions on how to improve.”
Humble worked with Canney as an educational assistant until 2015 when he graduated from Leo Hayes High School. She continues to work with him in private as his Autism Support Worker.
“[Canney] is very smart and catches onto new concepts very quickly … He an amazing young man.”
Canney swam once a week when he started swimming for the Special Olympics. Four years later, Moxon enrolled her son into the Fredericton Aquanauts Swim Team, one of the best swimming clubs in Atlantic Canada, so he could swim competitively.
But if Canney wanted to stay competitive, it would take a lot of catching up and plenty of early morning practices. Other team members had been training competitively since they were six or seven years old. For Canney, his mother said his “severe autism” made it a little more difficult.
“He had a hard time paying attention, so he needed one-on-one [coaching,]” Moxon said.
Eight-years later, Canney has not only caught up. He has thrived and he’s never let it change his character. He’ll smile and just accept his awards.
“He just takes it all in stride,” Moxon said.
“He just likes to swim.”
Now, Canney has his eyes on the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo, Japan. He has qualified for the Paralympics trials, but Moxon said it will “take a long shot” for him to make the Canadian Paralympic Team, as he’s not quite there in his training yet. The trials are short distance and Canney specializes in long distance.
But it won’t hold him back from trying, Moxon said, because he loves it so much.
“He’ll keep swimming for as long as he wants to.”