For Tyler Belanger, coaching special kids is about allowing them to live without limitations.
At CrossFit Catalyst in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., the coach works with an almost non-verbal, functioning autistic boy.
“Does he understand what is actually being said, and pitch and tone of voice? Probably not,” Belanger explains. “But we can’t really tell either. What we know is that he really enjoys when people smile, and he doesn’t like when people frown.”
Belanger says the experience has made him a better coach.
“Now I’ve got a huge vocabulary and language for breaking things down, and (I’m always) being mindful … that we’re starting with the basics,” he says. “I understand now that I can’t skip steps.”
Carl Kennedy is another one of Belanger’s athletes. Carl had trouble focusing in high school. Whenever a teacher asked for corrections, he reacted by biting his arm or ripping up a book.
He’s had to fight to overcome these challenges, but he says he’s up to the task.
“I fought hard to get into school,” Kennedy says, “I fought hard to go to CrossFit, I fought hard to get on the football team, I fought hard for every aspect of my life that people take for granted.”
Kennedy now has goals, including making the first string on the football team.
“I know what I want now, and I’m going to get it,” he says.