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2020 hasn't stopped local Special Olympian Carter Simpson

COVID-19 cancelled events and closed gyms, but Simpson, 27, has found new goals to crush

COVID-19 has cancelled many events in the world of sports, but it hasn’t stopped Special Olympian Carter Simpson from doing what he loves.

He reached his goal of hitting the 1,000 kilometre mark of the Great Canadian Running Challenge on Wednesday morning. 

“I had heard about the Great Canadian Running Challenge starting in January. Being a runner — but never running in any organized races — this seemed to be the perfect thing for me,” said Ann Liz Simpson, Carter’s mother who is also an avid runner. 

The Great Canadian Running Challenge was started in 2018 by a woman from Northern Ontario.

Her goal was to build a community and bring people together from coast to coast with one common goal: walking, jogging, or running 1,000 kilometres in one year.

In 2018, 98 Canadians registered to participate. This year more than 6,000 Canadians have registered to be a part of the challenge. 

“When COVID-19 hit and the gym closed, I was concerned about Carter and his activity level. He was coming to the gym every day with me, but our gym closed mid-March. Since we were all home during the peak of the pandemic, I encouraged Carter to come for a walk with me,” Simpson said. “He saw me receive my medal for accomplishing the 1,000 kilometres and he decided right then and there that he would start his own running challenge of 1,000 km for 2020. Starting so late in the season I wasn’t sure if he would realize his goal, but I should never question him. The Great Canadian Running Challenge runs different monthly challenges as well, so the first one that he signed up for was the ‘150 km for the month of June.' He aced that and then we realized that he could possibly reach 1,000 kilometres. We made a big deal out of every 100 kilometres he reached, and as he got closer to the goal I challenged him to finish it in his birth month (August), and he did it.

The 27-year-old has been involved in Special Olympics Ontario for many years. He represented northeastern Ontario in the 2011 provincial Winter Games in Thunder Bay where he was a silver medallist in downhill ski racing. Simpson also competed at the 2017 Summer Games in Etobicoke for track and field where he medalled in many different events.  

In 2019, he was asked to be the flag bearer for the opening ceremonies for the provincial Winter Games held here in Sault Ste Marie. He competed in three events for downhill ski racing and had a strong showing.   

“Special Olympics is such a fabulous organization and the athletes that he has met across the province have become good friends,” Simpson said. 

Growing up, Carter was always competing in sports as his two younger brothers, Palmer and Chandler, were very involved in competitive sports.

“Whatever sport they did, he did. He played football with his brother Palmer and soccer with both of them. He also started skiing at age 4 and when his brothers started racing he did too,” Ann Liz said.  

Carter’s new routine now includes at least two walks or runs a day. Now that the George Leach Centre has reopened, he also attends spin classes twice a week as well as daily workouts in the gym lifting weights.

“This past week when he was getting so close to his goal, he would opt to run home after his workout which added another 3.5 kilometres to his daily count,” Ann Liz said. 

“I am really proud of myself, I did it,” Carter said when asked how he felt about reaching his goal. “I loved when cars and trucks would honk for me as I ran or walked. I used to say a ‘long walk’ was walking to the end of my street — which is 500 meters. Now I walk at least seven kilometres when I go out.”

“I am incredibly proud of him as he has made the best of his newly found free time,” Simpson said. “Prior to the pandemic, he volunteered at Sault Area Hospital three days a week. All of a sudden he had nothing to fill his days. I accompanied him on his walks until I returned to work in June. I was concerned about how he would keep busy while I was at my clinic, but he started going out on his runs and walks by himself. This is a huge accomplishment for Carter.  The independence that this has brought him is incredible.”   

Carter has signed up for the September challenge which is reaching 200 kilometres in one month, and his new goal is to reach 1,500 kilometres in 2020.