Ask Todd Moore why he enjoys the sport of powerlifting so much, and he offers a quick, confident response: "I'm powerful."
He doesn't necessarily look it.
The 22-year-old Abbotsford resident stands just 4'9" and weighs 95 pounds. He has a cochlear implant over his right ear to correct a hearing deficiency. And he happens to have Down syndrome.
But he's right. He is powerful.
At the Special Olympics Canada Summer Games, which ran July 8-12 in Vancouver, Moore won three gold medals, lifting 196 pounds in the deadlift, 115 pounds in the bench press, and winning the overall title in his weight class.
He also lifted the spirits of his family, friends and coaches – really, anyone who was aware of what he's been through over the past six months.
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It's no small honour to be selected for the Special O Canada Games.
Participants are picked not only based on their performances – Todd excelled at a qualifying event in 2012 and provincials in 2013 – but also on attitude and how much supervision they'll require staying in dorms with their teammates and coaches.
But Todd's participation was very much in doubt after he underwent a complex jaw surgery in January.
Surgeons at UBC Hospital broke both his jaws, moving the top one back and the bottom one forward in order to fix his bite – he was essentially chewing with just one tooth. They finished the job with some plastic surgery to give him a chin.
The evening after the procedure, with his mother Colleen at his bedside, Todd had a harrowing Code Blue choking episode, and after being stabilized, had to be sent to Vancouver General for several extra nights.
He would go on to lose 12 pounds in the early days of his recovery – a huge amount for someone so small to start with. His parents worried he wouldn't be healthy in time for the Canada Games.
"There were six weeks where he couldn't eat any (solid) food, and he kind of just shrunk," Colleen said. "You had to give him water with a syringe for almost a week, and then he could graduate to juices that could get thicker and thicker.
"As he was going through all that, he would look at you with these sad eyes, like 'Help me.' But he never complained. He always had a smile – 'I'll be fine.'"
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Tom and Colleen Moore learned of Todd's Down syndrome just two minutes after he was born.
In a conversation with the delivery-room doctor that Colleen termed "devastating," they were told it was a 99 per cent certainty, pending further testing, that their baby boy had the genetic condition, which is associated with delays in mental and physical development.
The Moores already had five healthy kids, and eldest son Kyle had been assessed as gifted at the age of seven (he recently completed his PhD in economics).
Tom and Colleen soon began to wrap their heads around the diagnosis with the help of a hospital volunteer, a mother with a five-year-old daughter with Down syndrome who was brought in to share her experiences.
"She was so overjoyed with her and showed us pictures, and I thought, 'Wow,'" Colleen recalled.
The Moores determined to treat Todd, as much as possible, just like the other kids, and though aspects of his development took longer – he didn't walk until he was four years old – he became "the joy of our whole family" according to his mom.
With his ever-present smile and enthusiasm, it's not hard to see why. He's a massive fan of the NHL's Anaheim Ducks (he was thrilled when they traded for longtime Vancouver Canucks star Ryan Kesler), loves music (his favourite singer is Selena Gomez), and has even learned how to ride a bike.
"One of my daughters said to me one time, 'Mom, it's was really lucky you had Todd last, because you just love babies,'" Colleen related. "And Todd stayed a baby for a long time."
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The Moores moved from Thunder Bay, Ont. to Abbotsford when Todd was eight years old, and about a year later, he started with the local Special Olympics chapter. He began with bowling, and eventually tried many other sports including swimming, floor hockey, basketball, soccer and curling.
His parents got involved as volunteers – Tom is currently the Special O local co-ordinator and also serves as head coach of floor hockey and assistant coach of powerlifting, while Colleen leads the Club Fit program.
The fitness benefits for Special O participants are obvious, but the Moores found the social element just as valuable for Todd – he's built a circle of close friends, and his social calendar these days includes banquets, dances and birthday parties.
Five years ago, Todd caught some powerlifting on TV and was transfixed.
"I'm going to do that," he told his mom, miming the lifts he saw on TV. She wasn't so sure – he was under 90 pounds at the time. But Todd persisted, and then an opening came up to work with local Special O powerlifting coach Jon Wolbers. Meeting Wolbers set Colleen's mind at ease – an accomplished powerlifter himself, Wolbers knew what he was doing, and he and Todd connected.
Todd took to the sport, and has gone on to compete in not only Special O-hosted events, but also World Association of Bench Pressers and Deadlifters (WABDL) competitions in Las Vegas, Reno and Portland.
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Todd's full recovery from jaw surgery was expected to take six months, and in that sense, the Special Olympics Canada Summer Games represented the finish line.
In the early days of his recovery, it bothered him that he wasn't allowed to go to powerlifting practice.
"I'm fine!" he'd insist to his mom.
"You're not fine," was the response.
Wolbers didn't want Todd to resume training in earnest until he got up to at least 90 pounds, and under the watchful eye of his mom – a certified trainer and self-described "Food Nazi" – he got there. In the meantime, his dad helped him through his rehab, which began in late February with simply lifting a bar with no weights on it.
"He had to start from scratch," Tom explained. "We had to build the weight up over three months. We got him into the gym twice a week, and he got back just in time."
When Todd competed at the Canada Games, Colleen couldn't bear to watch – she covered her eyes with her hands, only removing them when she heard the cheers for a successful lift.
It's not that she was particularly concerned something bad was going to happen – it's how she's always been with her kids and sports. Kyle had been a hockey goalie, and Colleen was happy to watch the action when his team had the puck in the offensive zone. But as soon as the play went the other direction, it was hands-over-eyes time.
"Colleen never saw Kyle get scored on," Tom joked.
She may not have seen it with her own eyes, but Colleen said the Special Olympics nationals were "very exciting."
"There were lots of people there watching, and he's competing against other people who are from Ontario and all the different provinces," she noted.
"And I beat them," Todd chimed in.
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Asked to pose for a photo to go with this article, Colleen initially expressed mild concern that she wasn't in a state of photo-readiness, cosmetically speaking. Todd reached out and gently grabbed his mom's shoulder.
"My mom is beautiful always," he said, and she smiled.
The man is powerful, in every sense of the word.
Todd Moore was just one of many local standouts at the Special O Canada Summer Games.
• Mike Palitti (pictured above) was a medal magnet on the track, winning two gold (100m Div. M4, 200m Div. M5), two silver (800m Div. M2, long jump Div. M3) and one bronze (400m Div. M4).
• Distance runner Chris Hamilton took two silver medals in the 10k and the 3k Div. M2 races.
• In 10-pin bowling, Austin Johnson won silver in the Div. 2 team event and added a bronze in the Div. M3 doubles with Patrick McLauchlan, while Brad Mayo took bronze in the individual Div. M8.
• Five-pin bowler Karen Assels won silver in the individual Div. 4 competition.
• Sabrina McLean earned a bronze medal in the B division with the BC Adanacs basketball team.
• A trio of local rhythmic gymnasts each posted a top-five all-around finish: Robyn Styles (fourth, Div. 1B), Ashley Rosenberger (fourth, Div. 3B) and Katie Hawksby (fifth, Div. 2B).