Tuesday and Thursday mornings from 9-10 a.m. during the school year, a small and extremely dedicated group of Special Olympic athletes pump iron at CFI Gym in Port McNeill.
Calling themselves “Iron Chisel,” the team is comprised of coaches Chris Stewart and Rob Engel, along with three power lifters: Anthony Schofield and Dominic Parsons from Port McNeill and John Bee from Alert Bay.
Special Olympics BC Mount Waddington was created in 2014 with athletes involved in bowling and swimming in Port Hardy.
Three years ago, Stewart was approached by the Special Olympics powerlifting coach in Campbell River, George Maclagan.
At that time there were no Special Olympics powerlifters in the Mount Waddington region, and Maclagan knew that Stewart spent time at the gym every week lifting weights – it was a perfect match.
Stewart and Engel completed online and in class coach training and North Island Secondary School suggested a few students they thought might be interested.
Schofield and Bee have been part of the program since the beginning, and Parsons joined the team this year.
According to Stewart, Special Olympics is much more than improving physical benefits. “Success breeds confidence, but the program takes someone isolated at home and gets them out into the community.”
Stewart added the Iron Chisel athletes “are committed to participating and are perhaps finding themselves in uncomfortable situations, but dealing with it as a team.”
On May 5, the Iron Chisel traveled to the Vancouver Island BC Powerlifting Championship at the Archie Browning Centre in Esquimalt.
Athletes ranging in age from 15 to 60-years-old traveled from across the province to showcase their skills in: squat, bench press and deadlift.
Personal bests were achieved by all three Mount Waddington athletes, with Bee’s incredible 330 pound deadlift winning him first place in his category (Bee only weighs 160 lbs).
Attending a competition can be quite emotional for coaches, volunteers and families of the athletes.
Leanna Schofield’s son Anthony has been part of the program since its inception, and she’s a huge fan and tireless fundraiser for the cause.
Attending the recent meet in Esquimalt, Schofield shared that whenever she watches her now adult son compete, she reflects on one thing and one thing only. “Every time he lifts those intimidating weights, I am so proud and honored of the man he has become.”
Schofield is incredibly appreciative of the program and what it has done for her family.
She noted that “not everyone finds a passion and a group of people willing to help grow it. Powerlifting has saved my son and the pride he shows when he gets to compete makes this mom tear up every time.”
Proof that it does take a village to raise a child, Schofield also pointed out how the community of Port McNeill has “helped me raise this young man, and now these coaches are now showing him the way to continue to be a great man.”
In the past three years, the Iron Chisel has hosted two exhibition meets at CFI Gym and traveled to Campbell River to work out with Team Dog, another Special Olympics powerlifting team, as well as attending two provincial competitions.
Keep following the Gazette for more on the Iron Chisel and where they will be competing next.
– written for the North Island Gazette by Karen Stewart