Yellowknife’s Chelsey Makaro has become the NWT’s first female athlete to win gold at the Special Olympics World Games.
Makaro was in Berlin, Germany from June 17-25, competing at the international competition as part of Canada’s swimming team.
The Special Olympics World Games are held every two years and offer athletes with intellectual disabilities a chance to showcase their skills and athleticism.
Makaro, 21, won two gold medals – tying for first in the 25-metre backstroke then triumphing as part of Canada’s 50-metre freestyle relay team. She finished sixth in the 50-metre freestyle final.
“I had lots of fun,” said Makaro, reflecting on her time in Berlin.
“I was excited and half-nervous, but I was fine,” she said when asked what it was like to stand on the podium to receive her medals.
Makaro said she also enjoyed the opportunity to explore Berlin and take a boat tour while in Europe for the competition.
While sad to leave the new friends she met on Team Canada, Makaro was “really happy” to see the rest of her family back in Yellowknife.
‘The crowd is just with them’
“I choked up a few times, just watching some of these participants,” said Chelsey’s father, Wade Makaro.
“It doesn’t matter if they came in last, they’re just friggin’ happy. The crowd is just with them. I think the person that came in last got the biggest cheers, actually.”
Wade said Chelsey trained seven days a week leading up to the games – swimming in the mornings with the Yellowknife Polar Bear Swim Club, working with trainers at the city’s Racquet Club gym, and going to training camps and a qualifying meet in cities across the country.
Lexie Letzing, who works with Special Olympics NWT, gave a shout-out to Chelsey’s coaches – Catherine Babin-Lavoie, Jane Mooney and Aodhan Mooney – for helping to prepare her for the games.
“When they say it takes a village, I really think that it took a village to help Chelsey get to where she was and get the results she did in Berlin,” said Letzing.
Letzing said when the opportunity came up to send athletes to the world games, the NWT had a quota swimming spot to fill for a female athlete.
“So I said, you know, this is a great opportunity for Chelsea. She’s at that age where she is very self-sufficient,” she said.
“We are so proud of Chelsey and she’s done a great job of representing the Northwest Territories chapter. I’ve heard nothing but great things of Chelsey since she’s been there. I’ve spoken with Special Olympics Canada staff who said she’s just a great person to be around. She’s always smiling and they’re just really happy that she was able to be a part of the team.”
Bowling may be next
Now that the games are over, Chelsey is going to take a breather from swimming.
“She’s not gonna drop it, we talked about that,” said Wade. “But she does want to take a break … she wants to get more into maybe bowling next year, because one of her good friends is involved in bowling.”
Suggesting golf is another option, he added: “We’re gonna spread her wings a bit and see what she wants to do and let her make her choices.”
Chelsey told Cabin Radio she is looking forward to swimming just for fun, and having more time for bowling, one of her favourite sports.
Letzing said while the Special Olympics NWT chapter is currently only active in Yellowknife, interested prospective volunteers in other communities can contact her for support to get a program off the ground.
In Yellowknife, programs include bowling, speed skating, swimming, rhythmic gymnastics, golf, figure skating, track and field, snowshoeing and a youth program.
“Essentially, Special O is available for anyone from the ages from two to 99,” Letzing said.
She hopes stories like Chelsey’s will encourage other athletes to access their programs and volunteers to step forward across the NWT.