TRURO - Matthew Hunter has broken down barriers all his life.
So it was no surprise Thursday when the 24-year-old Harmony resident, who has Down syndrome, made history by becoming the first Special Olympian to be named male athlete of the year in the 21 to 50 age category at the 29th annual Truro Sport Heritage Society Awards Dinner at the Best Western Glengarry.
"It's a great experience" Hunter, a swimmer, said. "I'm really proud."
The dinner honoured Colchester County's sporting achievements in 2012. More than 350 people attended the event and had the chance to listen to guest speakers Mark de Jonge, an Olympic bronze medallist from Dartmouth, and Ken Bagnell, president of the Canadian Sport Centre Atlantic.
Hunter edged out Geoffrey Larkin, of the Dalhousie Woodsmen, for the honour.
Hunter helped Canada to a bronze medal in the relay event at the Down Syndrome International Swim Organization world championships in Loano, Italy. Individually, he finished fourth in the 400m, fifth in the 200m fly and eighth in the 400m freestyle and was one of just nine athletes selected to the team.
More than 200 swimmers from 21 countries competed at the event.
Although he competes with Cobequid Special Olympics programs, Hunter is also a member of the Truro Centurions swim club and has become popular among his teammates, thanks to his fun-loving demeanour, positive attitude and commitment to training up to seven times per week between both teams.
"I love everything about swimming," Hunter said.
The Truro Lions throwing team also put its stamp on the dinner as Peter Millman and Kayla Gallagher -both named CEC athletes of the year in 2012 and now attending the University of Lethbridge - swept the male and female 16 to 20 athlete of the year honours, while Drew Erskine was the top male athlete 15 and under. Erskine and Gallagher also won the same awards in 2012.
"I think it's our coach (Paul Millman) and we help each other a lot," Erskine said of the team's success. "It's a great team environment. We just push each other to be our best and our coach is awesome."
The Ecole Acadienne de Truro girls volleyball team also made itself known, laying claim to the junior high team of the year award, while coach Roger Bastarache was named coach of the year.
Popular among his players, Bastarache was swarmed by his team while having photos done after receiving the honour.
"It feels really good," Bastarache said. "It makes it all worth while. I don't have any problem going to the practices, putting the time in because I've got such a motivated group of young women and it makes it fun for me."
Ecole Acadienne posted a perfect season on their way to taking regional and district titles. The team, which has only 20 eligible girls to draw from, also won gold at the Jeux de l'Acadie Atlantic finals.
"We put in a lot of hours and I think the Acadian school has always had a strong culture of physical activity from the very early ages," Bastarache said.
Following are winners from Thursday’s 29th annual Truro Sport Heritage Society Awards Dinner at the Best Western Glengarry:
Male 15 and under – Drew Erskine
Female 15 and under – Karlee Burgess
Club Team 15 and under – Colchester Peewee AA Cyclones hockey & CC Riders Tier 2A girls soccer
Junior High Team – Ecole Acadienne girls volleyball
Male 16 to 20 – Peter Millman
Female 16 to 20 – Kayla Gallagher
Club Team 16 to 20 years – Truro S. Allen & Sons Bearcats midget AAA hockey
High School Team – CEC Boys volleyball
Male 21 to 50 years – Matthew Hunter
Female 21 to 50 years – Caila Henderson
Team 21 and over – NSAC Woodsmen
Senior Female Athlete 50 and over – Ann Allen
Coach of the year – Roger Bastarache
Volunteer of the year – Sheri Morehouse
Truro Daily News – Beth (Roach) Iskiw
Tim Hortons – Dr. Barry Wheeler
Johnson Saunders – Duncan MacLeod
Special Olympian – Shelley Marney
Truro Sport Heritage Chair Award – Truro Minor Football 50 years