By Rick Garrick
Curve Lake’s Soraya Whetung ramped up her running and swimming this summer after watching the Parapan Am Games — now she’s competing in cross-country running meets and swimming with a swim club.
“It was her initiative that she wanted to try out for the cross-country team,” says Keely McCue Whetung, Soraya’s mother. “At nine years old, if she is able to do something then we are like ‘Go for it’, and give her all the support we can.”
Soraya, who has cerebral palsy on the right side, ran a modified one-kilometre course that allowed her to finish alongside the other competitors in her grade during the Oct. 8 cross-country running meet.
“It went really well — her team placed second overall for their age group (Grade 4), which means that they will be moving on to the next round,” Keely says. “You can see how her confidence has soared this year. I believe it has a lot to do with being a part of this team and the great coach that she has. She was extremely excited to compete and you could see by watching her in warm up and in the race that she loved every minute of it. Soraya ran hard and finished alongside her teammates and other racers.”
Soraya began copying the athletes at the Parapan Am Games after watching the Aug. 7-15 competition for people with disabilities, by doing her own running, hurdling and swimming activities.
“There was a competitor in a swimming competition and she was only 10 or 11 years old,” Keely says. “And Soraya said: ‘Wow, I didn’t know this was for kids.’ She had always loved swimming and running, but she never really thought of it as something she could do and maybe do well. So just watching that, she thought: ‘I think I would like to be a competitive swimmer’.”
Keely has since signed Soraya up with the Trent Swim Club, a competitive swim club in Peterborough that has developed regional, provincial and national record holders.
“Right now, if she has the ability, we just try to push her to be the best that she can,” Keely says. “She goes for an hour once a week. They start in a swim class, and from there they are selected to go on to the competitive team.”
Keely says Soraya is learning how to do the different swim strokes as well as how to do kick turns when swimming lengths.
“By doing that, she is also doing her own therapy by doing something she enjoys and loves,” Keely says. “She’s enjoying it and it is stretching her muscles.”
Soraya was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and bleeding in her brain about a week after she was born, so Keely stayed home with her for the first three years to help her do exercises at home and to take her for occupational and physical therapy once or twice a week at Five Counties Children’s Centre in Peterborough.
“That was basically my job to get her to do everything she could,” Keely says. “The doctor, about a week (after) she was born, said she was going to have cerebral palsy and that she had bleeding in her brain. And that she was probably not going to walk or talk.”
Keely says Soraya didn’t hit the milestones at the same time as other children, but followed her own schedule.
“She’s doing great — she did what she wanted when she was ready,” Keely says. “So it’s been a long nine years. She had botox to loosen her leg; six to eight needles every three months in her leg, which was awful for her and for us.”
Soraya usually practices running at her elementary school by running around the school yard four times every day.