When it comes to speed skating, the last couple of years have been nothing short of amazing for Ezekiel Liu.
In February 2019, Ezekiel participated in the Special Olympics Provincial Winter Games. He won four medals in total: two gold and two silver. Twelve months later, the Richmond Hill, Ont. native captured a gold, silver and two bronze medals in the national spotlight at the Special Olympics Canada Winter Games Thunder Bay 2020.
Ezekiel, who has autism, demonstrated a knack for the sport since he first laced up skates at around the age of four. He started speed skating when he was eight and loved it because it allowed him to go fast. Now 16, he is also a swimmer and track and field athlete.
Ezekiel has also been a guest of Muskoka Woods for the past five years. I had a chance to catch up with his mother, Fiona Goy, about how his experiences at Muskoka Woods have helped Ezekiel in both day-to-day life and athletics.
How has Muskoka Woods had an impact on Ezekiel’s life both on and off the rink?
In the summer of 2015, Ezekiel attended Muskoka Woods City Camp when it was held at our church (Richmond Hill Christian Community Church). Thereafter, he looked forward to City Camp every summer, even though it was held at a different location.
We made the leap to Muskoka Woods overnight camp when he turned 13, and it was tremendously helpful that he was already familiar with Muskoka Woods’ camp cheers and activities. The management team extended the Test Drive option to us since this was his first overnight camp. That, plus the 1:1 support arranged for him, was reassuring because we weren’t sure if he could cope with a whole week away from home, all by himself. It turned out that he loved being away at camp and has been spending a week at Muskoka Woods every summer.
We view his time at Muskoka Woods as a form of “independence training.” This involves a range of skills from taking care of daily needs to advocating for himself. Independence is important as he travels with his sports teams and as he grows into a young adult.
Has he been able to apply any skills from camp to his athletic endeavours?
Ezekiel’s autism makes it challenging for him to pay attention to instructions in a group. Attending camp helps him practise listening to the counsellors’ instructions throughout the day. This translates to him being able to pay closer attention at school and at sports. He has ample opportunities to socialize with other campers and counsellors, and that helps him communicate better with school friends and teammates. We are also seeing increasing independence in other areas, such as being more responsible about his own belongings and sports equipment.
What are Ezekiel’s favourite activities/experiences at Muskoka Woods?
Ezekiel enjoys a wide variety of activities at camp but his favourites are Swim Beach, the Kraken water slide and Mountain Biking (replaced by Drift Trikes for 2021). Every day he looks forward to having his own time at the Sensory Garden. He also likes to shop at The Camp Store.
As a parent, can you comment on the importance of Muskoka Woods in Ezekiel’s life?
Muskoka Woods is helping Ezekiel to cultivate his independence, his sense of self and his faith in God. We are very pleased that he can do that while enjoying God’s creations in nature and supported by trusted people who care about him.
Jamie Hunter is a freelance content specialist living in Dundas, Ont. with his wife, 10-year-old daughter and six-year-old son. Over the past 15+ years, he has contributed to a variety of national lifestyle and entertainment print publications and worked in corporate communications roles at Harbourfront Centre and the University of Toronto. A self-described amateur entomologist, wannabe ornithologist, and fair-weather angler, on weekends he can be found covered in dirt tending to his gardens.