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Gainesvilles Will Crain to compete in World Special Olympics next week in LA
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Will Crain takes a breather at the dock July 17 after doing some paddling at the Lake Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club in Gainesville. Crain, a senior at Johnson High School, is competing as a kayaker in the World Special Olympics starting today in Los Angeles. - photo by Erin O. Smith

2015 World Special Olympics
When: Opening Ceremony: 9 tonight; coverage begins 7 p.m. daily Sunday-Aug. 1
Where: Los Angeles
TV: ESPN

“Mama! Mama! How was that?”

Will Crain shielded his eyes from the afternoon sun, looking up at the dock from his kayak on Lake Lanier. Stacey Crain gave him a “thumbs up” sign in approval.

“That was awesome.”

The 19-year-old from Gainesville has been training to compete in the World Special Olympics beginning Sunday in Los Angeles. The venue is the Long Beach Marine Stadium, built to accommodate the 1932 Summer Olympics.

For the first 10 years of Will’s life, his parents worried constantly about him getting into open water. Born with a genetic disorder of the liver, Will lacked an enzyme to digest any protein. His weakened immune system landed him in the hospital emergency room “five dozen times,” as a child, according to his father.

“He couldn’t fight anything off, it seemed like,” Scott Crain said.

“We were always apprehensive about him falling in the water,” Stacey Crain said.

At age 10, Will received a liver transplant.

“When he was 8, we discovered that his liver was failing,” Scott Crain said. “And then when he was 10, we just didn’t really have any choice. It was either get a transplant, or he wasn’t going to be around.”

“It’s been almost nine years,” Stacey Crain said. “We call it his ‘liver
birthday,’ in December. It’ll be nine years in December.”

But once he had his transplant, it was all systems go for Will, who channeled some of his excess energy into kayaking beginning around six years ago.

Stacey Crain said Will’s main events are set for Thursday and Friday, and can be seen on ESPN.

The first alternate kayaker for Will is also from Hall County, Johnson High classmate and friend Andrew Jones.

The Crain family filled out an application to compete in the Special Olympics in March 2014 and were notified Will had been selected to participate in July. He has been in training ever since.

And he is ready, having used the facilities at the Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club for months.

“We’ve been training all winter,” Scott Crain said. “And on days when he couldn’t paddle, we’d hit the weight room and all that kind of stuff.

“We’re very fortunate that we can still be on the water in the winter.”

That signature Will Crain smile and can-do attitude has kept him going through the months of training.

“He takes direction and tries to do everything we ask of him,” said Cathy O’Dell, who is one of Will’s coaches. “He’s always done everything that was asked of him. As a matter of fact, last year after he was accepted to go to the World Special Olympics competition, he said ‘Put me in a tippier boat.’ And we did!”

Will headed to Los Angeles last Sunday. Opening ceremonies are scheduled for today.

Having never been to Los Angeles, the Johnson High senior is excited for the journey.

“I’ll have to go and look and see,” he said about what he’s most looking forward to. “I know we’re going to be in a parade.”

“We’re just excited,” Scott Crain said. “The community just has been great. We’ve just had all kinds of support for Will, so we just want to thank everybody.”

“I think the main thing is ... I think it’s important for people to realize that even though you may have a disability, you’re still able to do many, many things,” Stacey Crain said.

“I think that’s just important to realize,” she continued. “As parents, we’ve never tried to stop Will. If he wanted to try it, we let him try it.”

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