Figure skater brings home gold at National Special Olympics
Winning gold was a dream come true for figure skater Emile Baz.
In March, Baz went to Newfoundland to compete in the National Special Olympics. It was there he placed first in the men’s competition.
“It makes me feel really happy because I always wanted to win a gold medal and bring it home,” he said.
He’s been skating since he was six-years-old. A year earlier, he had been diagnosed with autism. Though he didn’t enjoy new activities, something clicked the first time his mother, Lama Shakar, took him to a rink.
“It’s not like soccer or hockey,” said Shakar. “He doesn’t have to cooperate with others because that was so difficult for him in the past.”
Baz trains every week, with sessions as long as two-and-a-half hours per day during the summer. He’s been with coach Louise Gagne for 18 years.
“Emile is so sweet,” said Gagne. “It wasn’t like that at the beginning.”
Gagne trains Baz the same as any other skater. She said the only difference is in how she communicates with him.
“When I want him to skate faster, I say ‘Okay, you have to be strong like Superman,’” she said. “So he skates faster. When I want him to stand straight, I say ‘You need to be like a stick.’ So, something happens in his head and he understands what I mean.”
Autism is the fastest-growing developmental disability in the world and it can cause varying degrees of difficulty in social interaction. For Baz, skating has been a type of therapy, said Shakar.
However, activities like figure skating can be expensive. Shakar said she wishes the government would provide some funding for programs.
With the National Special Olympics behind him, Baz hopes to continue his victorious ways at the Special Olympic Games in Austria next year.