In front of one of the largest crowds that he can remember watching him out on the water, Will Crain pushed aside nerves to win the race of his young life.
A day later, he said he couldn’t wait to tell everyone about it.
Crain, a Johnson High senior, won a gold medal Thursday in the 500-meter singles kayaking, then earned a silver medal in the 200-meter race Friday at the 2015 Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles.
“I was so excited,” said Crain, 19. “I was nervous about each race at first, but when I got started, I felt good.”
Crain, the only Georgia resident of Team USA’s five-member kayaking squad, finished the 500-meter course with a time of 4:02, more than 10 seconds faster than his closest competitor, Matthew Hernandez of Texas.
The 19-year-old had trained for months for the event at the Lake Lanier Olympic Venue in Gainesville. He said he was able to win the 500-meter final in front of “500 or 600” people on the banks of the river course.
And after a week-long celebration of athletics and new-found friendship, Crain and his father Scott will be heading home to Gainesville after Sunday’s Closing Ceremony at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, which is where the University of Southern
California plays home football games. They should arrive back in Georgia Monday evening.
Crain is already prepared for his first day of school.
“I’ll be showing (my medal) to everyone, be wearing it,” he said. “It’s exciting, it’s unbelievable. I’m sure it’ll sink in later.”
Born with a genetic disorder of the liver, Will lacked an enzyme to digest any protein. As a result of a weakened immune system, Will eventually received a liver transplant when he was 10, and has thrived on and off the water since then.
Scott Crain, Hall County Schools’ special education parent mentor, called seeing his son celebrate on the podium “an amazing thing to see.”
“He’s a pretty intense competitor,” said Crain. “He really battled hard to do his best.”
Will said he’s met several new friends from several European countries and wants to use FaceTime and texting to keep in touch with them long after the Special Olympics are over.
Scott said he and Will felt welcomed by everyone in Los Angeles, especially fellow parents.
“We all operate very similarly,” said Scott. “What you find out with kids with developmental disabilities, we all have the same thoughts in mind. Those kind of fears and thoughts are universal. It doesn’t matter what it is. The Special Olympics are a great way to bring us all together.”
Will looks forward to remembering his friends and experiences through commemorative pins that the athletes have been trading amongst themselves in the past week, with many of the pins representing a certain country. He has collected several pins so far, and wants to find more before he leaves Los Angeles.
As long as Will remembers how fortunate he was to have the chance to represent his country, Scott said, the journey is well worth it.
“It’s a privilege to represent your local community, state and country, it’s a real honor,” Scott said. “It’s not all about them, but about the spirit of the Special Olympics in general. To be a part of it, to see everyone compete and cheer everyone on, it’s been a real honor to participate.”