Multi-sport athlete Jonathan Henry is making strides for the 10th annual Down Syndrome World Swimming Championships. (Submitted: Peter Henry)

Multi-sport athlete Jonathan Henry trains every day for speed skating, while also preparing for the 10th annual Down Syndrome World Swimming Championships in Portugal in October of 2022.

Although having a hectic training schedule, 38-year-old Henry said he’s prepared.

“It’s not hard, I get used to it,” he said.

The Special Olympics sent him a training kit that included a slide board and exercise drills to complete so he’s in tiptop shape for when he competes, eleven months down the road.

“He works so hard and never complains,” said his mother Shirley.

Henry works out in his home gym in the basement. While he does his squats and lunges, behind him on the wall are pucks from every National Hockey League team, some sticks from the players his parents billeted and a life-size wall sticker of Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins, one of his favourite teams.

His love for speed skating started at a young age when he lived in Florida in 1999. His father Peter said he enrolled his son into in-line skating after Henry came home one day and expressed his interest in learning because there wasn’t anyone in the Special Olympics who skates.

Henry was enrolled in the local speed skating club and they welcomed him with open arms.

“After falling a zillion times, tearing off skin, he always got back up and kept going,” said Peter.

Once his family returned to the Maritimes, now living in Dieppe, Henry switched from in-line skating to speed skating. He also continued with his swimming and went to plenty of swim meets where he met lots of friends from all over the world – like England, Australia and the U.S. – while also achieving personal bests for himself.

Henry said he’s traveled to Taiwan, Italy and Mexico. For swimming, his next meet will be in Portugal, which he already qualified for.

In January 2023, the World Winter Games will be held in Kazan, Russia, where Henry plans to beat his personal best of 1:22.95. His parents said they felt sheer pride, knowing their son got selected.

“It just makes you happy as a parent to know all his hard work paid off,” said Peter. “We were standing here jumping up and down and couldn’t wait to Facetime all of my friends [to say] ‘we’re going to Russia.’”

Other than the games, he looks forward to sightseeing around Kazan, situated around 13 hours east of Moscow.

His goals for the games are to beat his previous times and “win lots of medals.” Henry will be in four competitions at the World Winter Games.

People around the Fredericton area might know Henry from somewhere else other than speed skating and swimming. He’s also a co-owner of the Fredericton Red Wings of the Maritime Junior Hockey League, a title given to him by team president and governor Roger Shannon, who knew Henry when he was with the Moncton Wildcats.

“It’s kind of neat to say he’s part owner of a hockey team,” said Peter.

Henry was inducted into the Sports Wall of Fame in Moncton in 2019, and he’s the first athlete with down syndrome to be inducted. Shannon brought the Red Wings to the ceremony to see Henry get his name on the wall.

His mother Shirley reflected back on Henry’s swim meet in Florence, Italy, where he was the anchor in the relay.

“When he dove in the water, his team was behind, he made that comeback, and they won the race. Everybody was like ‘he’s got it, he’s got it’ – that’s probably the most exciting thing I can remember,” she said.

As a five-time world champion in swimming and prolific speed skater, Henry chooses to not be defined by his down syndrome, but by his dedication and drive.

“Just because I have down syndrome, doesn’t mean I can’t do anything,” said Henry.