Chatting and laughing outside the gym, three young men wait eagerly to start their third powerlifting session – the main goal – to get big muscles, they say.
The Langford CrossFit gym normally booms with the sound of music and crashing weights, it is unusually quiet on this Sunday afternoon.
Twins Scott and Neil Mauridis, 19, and Kyle Valad, 23, wait in silence for coach Ray Hodgkinson to begin the 1.5 hour weekly session in the gym lit only by the sun streaming through a window.
The athletes listen carefully to instructions but show apprehension when weights are added to the shiny, silver weightlifting bar.
As the volunteer coach adds a 15-pound plate on each side, their concern becomes vocal.
“Yikes,” says Kyle followed by, “That’s scary,” from Scott.
Scott approaches the bar slowly, hesitantly, crouches low, grips it with two hands and stands raising the weight to his waist, gently he lowers the bar to the ground and completes his first deadlift.
A wide grin illuminates his face as he walks away proudly.
While Kyle readies himself at the bar, Hodgkinson guides him through proper form. Keep your back flat and arms straight, he tells the young man. After three reps, Kyle, too, leaves the bar standing tall.
“Ray is a cool, cool guy,” says Scott, still smiling. Scott and Kyle love weight training. Neil, Scott’s twin, has been watching the two and with a little push from his mom, he’s ready to give it a try.
Neil is weak, recovering from a long illness, but with coaching from Hodgkinson, and encouragement from mom, who watches from the sidelines, he tries to lift the bar gently with his fingertips.
Neil struggles to lift the bar and only wants to use his fingertips. Neil’s mom asks Hodgkinson help Neil lift the 35-pound bar in an assisted deadlift.
His mom cheers for him, and Neil walks away saying “just one.”
“You can’t walk away without a high-five,” Hodgkinson says raising his hand.
Through the session, the three aspiring weightlifters learn several techniques, using barbells, dumbbells and kettle bells in hopes of gaining muscle.
The three young men began training with Special Olympics B.C.-Victoria 18 months ago. They all participate in track and field, floor hockey and basketball. Kyle qualified to compete in the B.C. Special Olympics for track and field and will run in the 200-metre sprint, in July.
“Special Olympics is a really good program and it opens doors (to opportunities) for them that most people don’t get,” says Caroline Mauridis, Scott and Neil’s mother and Kyle’s caregiver. “In my family, we don’t close the door until they see that they can’t do something.”
The proud mom and caregiver is very good at encouraging the young men to give things a try even when they are scared, she doesn’t take no for an answer.
“Their progress is pretty good with technique and form,” Hodgkinson says. “Today we got up to 65 pounds and we started with an eight-pound trainer bar. That’s measurable progress (in three weeks).”
The three athletes train with Hodgkinson in a 12-week pilot program, but Hodgkinson hopes the program will grow and develop. “Eventually we’ll be going to meets and going to other regions. These guys want to compete.”
This is the first time Special Olympics powerlifiting has been offered in Greater Victoria and this short program was created to see if it could become an annual one.
The pilot program runs until June 16. At that point it will be assessed by Special Olympics B.C.- Victoria and may continue in the fall.
As Scott, Neil and Kyle learn to powerlift, Hodgkinson is learning from the experience as well.
“They’ve taught me patience. I have also learned to explain things simply,” he says.
If the program is successful the athletes could compete in the 2016 regional powerlifting competition with the chance to qualify for provincials.
“We are starting this pilot project with three athletes. Ray is new to Special Olympics and we didn’t want him to get overwhelmed,” says Bobby Debrone, manager, Special Olympics B.C. community development for Vancouver Island. “We’ve had interest in the past, but never had a coach or enough volunteers. This is only possible because Ray is volunteering his time and CrossFit Zone is donating the space.”
When the request to add Special Olympics powerlifting in Victoria was made, Debrone turned to Hodgkinson, a former teammate from the Nanaimo Timbermen senior A lacrosse team.
“I knew was he was a CrossFit guy, so I thought I’d ask,” Debrone says.
“I jumped at the opportunity, it was a no brainer,” says Hodgkinson. “I had a sister who had Down syndrome.”
Hodgkinson’s sister, Selina, died at 14 months old after complications from surgery.
“I always wanted to help kids with special needs. I wanted to set up a charity, but I was never established enough as a professional athlete,” says Hodgkinson. “It’s kind of cool all three of these guys have Down syndrome. I do this in my sister’s memory.”