As we celebrate Josh Lowâ€™s arrival at the Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles this month, letâ€™s reflect on the Langley athleteâ€™s journey.
Josh, who has Down syndrome, was diagnosed with leukemia when he was four and endured four-and-a-half years of chemotherapy treatments.
He also has a heart condition and on one frightening occasion, a â€œcrash cartâ€ was positioned outside his hospital room because he was in congestive heart failure.
Josh also spent time at Canuck Place Childrenâ€™s Hospice because it wasnâ€™t believed he would survive.
Josh was on a feeding tube until he was 11. After that, he told his mom Merry, â€œ12 year olds donâ€™t need feeding tubes.â€
His dad Paul said Josh has 50 per cent lung capacity, which he said is a byproduct of years of chemotherapy treatments.
Through it all, Josh has soldiered on, getting involved in Special Olympics 11 years ago.
Through Special Olympics, Paul said his son has â€œthrived.â€
He started in floor hockey and has since dabbled in practically every other sport Special Olympics has to offer, including softball, track and field, powerlifting, and basketball.
But heâ€™s really found a real niche in swimming.
At the world games, which run July 25 to Aug. 2, 23-year-old Josh will represent Canada in the pool, competing in the 25-metre backstroke and freestyle races, as well as with Canadaâ€™s 4 x 50m relay team.
â€œIâ€™m the next generation,â€ said Josh, who took up competitive swimming four years ago. â€œMy mom was a swimmer.â€
Joshâ€™s second ever swim meet was at the regionals four years ago in Coquitlam, and after that he competed in the BC Special Olympics Games in Langley in 2013.
Then, Josh competed at the Canada Special Olympics Games at UBC last July.
Josh qualified for the world games not just based on the gold medal in the 25-metre freestyle and silver in the 25-metre butterfly that he won at last summerâ€™s national event, but for other intangibles, as well.
â€œYou donâ€™t necessarily have to be first in all your races to move on,â€ his mom explained. â€œYou have to do well, but you also have to have referrals from your coaches in terms of sportsmanship and all of the other things that go along with it.â€
Other factors include dedication to training, and the ability to travel independently.
â€œWhen he goes to nationals and worlds, we wonâ€™t see him at all,â€ said Merry, who along with Paul are travelling to L.A. to watch their son compete.
â€œItâ€™s okay for them to see me at worlds, but I wonâ€™t see them,â€ Josh offered.
Asked how tough he thinks the competition in L.A. will be, Josh chuckled.
â€œI wonâ€™t know until I get there,â€ he answered.
Langley well represented
Joining Josh at the world games are Langley basketball players Alastair Singh and Matthew Williams.
They were part of the Langley Warriors who won gold in the A Division at the 2014 Canada Games at UBC, as Special Olympics basketball debuted at a national level.
However, Matthew and Alastair are joining Team Canada as individual additions.
Alastair, who stands 6â€™5â€ and plays centre, is one-half of a brother combo with his 6â€™3â€ brother Alexander, who was forced to miss last yearâ€™s national event due to a severe ankle sprain that he suffered two days before the BC Games in Langley.
Alastair called being selected to play for Team Canada an honour.
â€œI was thrilled once I got the news,â€ he said. â€œI was shocked.â€
The Singhs have been with the Warriors for a few years, now, according to their head coach Kurc Buzdegan.
Prior to that, Buzdegan coached the brothers with the Developmentally Challenged Youth Basketball Association, in the Marpole area of Vancouver.
While Alastair, 34, is starring on the basketball court, heâ€™s no stranger to Special Olympics, which he has been involved in for the past 20 years. This is also his second World Games, having competed in indoor track and field in Portugal in 2001.
â€œIt was the first experience I had indoors,â€ Alastair recalled. â€œI wasnâ€™t used to indoor track â€“ I was more used to the outdoor. I did the 100 [metre sprint], the 4 the 8. It was fun learning that experience. Win or lose, it was an opportunity to go somewhere, because a lot of people donâ€™t get a chance to do something like that â€“ to go overseas and compete. That was fun. Something like this is the next round.â€
Alastair said basketball is â€œbig in L.A., so this is going to be a lot of fun and Iâ€™m looking forward to when I get there.â€
Matthew, 23, is a dedicated ambassador and advocate for Special Olympics.
And this isnâ€™t the first time the world spotlight has shone on him,
Last summer, Matthew took centre stage at the White House with fellow Special Olympics athlete leaders and youth activists, and felt honoured to have the genuine attention of the president and first lady of the United States.
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, honorary chairs of the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games, hosted a dinner at the White House on July 31, 2014.
The event celebrated Special Olympics and its work for inclusion and unity, and built excitement.
Shifting from one unbelievable experience to another, this is Matthewâ€™s first world games and he said heâ€™s equally nervous and excited. â€œIâ€™m nervous, just to go down there and represent my country but at the same time Iâ€™m excited to have the opportunity [to play] with the great team members and really show the talent and development that Special Olympics Canada Basketball has been growing over the past few years.â€
A guard, Matthew canâ€™t wait for the games to start.
â€œA highlight will be getting to be on the court,â€ he said. â€œIt was a great honour to be an ambassador and promote Special Olympics and be able to speak on the talent of the athletes, but now getting to have a hands-on experience along with my team members and playing some great basketball teams from all around the world is something Iâ€™m definitely looking forward to.â€
Matthew said basketball has been beneficial for him, not just on the court, but off of it, as well. â€œItâ€™s definitely something Iâ€™ve really enjoyed and have a great experience playing.â€
About the Games
With 7,000 athletes and 3,000 coaches representing 177 countries, along with 30,000 volunteers and an anticipated 500,000 spectators, the World Games â€“ taking place July 25 to Aug. 2 â€“ will be the largest sports and humanitarian event anywhere in the world in 2015, and the largest event hosted by Los Angeles since the 1984 Olympic Games.