Will Crain pulls his paddle through the Lake Lanier waters with his left hand, pushing the other end forward with his right.
Will, 19, was chosen to represent his country at the 2015 Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles this July. He’s the only person from Georgia on the five-person USA Kayak Team.
He said he loves the sport, because he loves to be on the water.
“I like it because you get to be outdoors, get to be on the water,” Will said. “When it’s not choppy, you could just paddle all day.”
And that’s exactly what he’s doing. Will has been training for the World Games since last year, according to his coach Cathy O’Dell.
“Will has done very, very well,” O’Dell said. “I think last summer I probably could have beaten him, but now he’s beating me.”
Will practices in a heavy boat, so he can work on speed and form, O’Dell said.
“It’s made him then faster in a lighter, sleeker boat,” she said. “That’s why he’s doing so well. He’s greatly improved in the way he strokes, his paddling and he is always, always happy to paddle.”
All Hall County Special Olympics kayakers train in more difficult boats that require balance and concentration.
“When they first got in them, they would flip,” O’Dell said, as Will laughed. “They’d get up and get back in them again. So they’ve all learned stability.”
Will also had to work in the weight room through the winter with several different trainers to prepare for the World Games.
“Now we’re back on the water again and he’s doing well,” O’Dell said. “He’s going to be somebody that will do really well, and he’s going to have a good time.”
O’Dell also credited the Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club for their support of Will and the Special Olympics. She said he is able to use the facility, the weight room and boats whenever they need.
Will, who also plays soccer, golf, bowling and basketball, has never been to a World Games before. He said he’s “nervous and excited at the same time.”
He’s been involved with the Special Olympics for six years, according to his father Scott Crain, the Hall County Schools’ parent mentor and Special Olympics coordinator.
Scott Crain said he was approached by ESPN, who is interested in filming a feature on Will.
“I didn’t realize that ESPN would cover the Special Olympics, but World Games is a big event,” he said. “There are 7,000 athletes participating from 170 countries.”
Scott Crain helps his son with weight lifting and training, following him in a tug boat as Will paddles and timing his practice races.
Will said he enjoys traveling for the Special Olympics because it gives him a chance to see things he wouldn’t see here in Georgia.
He will compete in the World Games July 25-28 in Los Angeles, but until then, he’ll be training.
“Summer I’ll be still training, for a long time in the sun, in the wind or in the rain,” he said. “Then I’ll go to LA and just try my hardest.”