There’s not much Special Olympian Marley Gayler can’t do when she puts her mind to it and powerlifting is no exception.
“I've always liked being active and staying in shape,” said the 28-year-old athlete, who's been involved with the Special Olympics for over a decade. “I even joined the track team and cross country in high school.”
Basketball, track-and-field, horseback riding, baseball, curling, and hockey; if you can name a sport, Marley’s probably tried (and excelled) at it.
“I love challenging myself, seeing and shocking people with how much I can lift, how supportive my coaches have been, and making new friends along the way,” said Marley, who met her boyfriend during her training. “But sometimes it can be hard because I am pretty hard on myself and get in my head.”
One of 89 athletes representing Canada at the Special Olympics World Summer Games in June 2023, Marley will first travel to training camp in Vancouver before going to Germany to compete in Berlin. This will be her first time travelling alone.
“I’m looking forward to representing my country and hopefully winning a medal,” said Marley. “I’ve never been (to Europe) so I’m excited to experience the culture and meet new people, new friends.”
Always a driven child, Marley, and her family’s lives drastically changed when she had a seizure at four years of age, which damaged her brain and caused cognitive disabilities.
“Marley’s dad and I are extremely proud of her,” said Tannis Gayler, Marley’s mom. “When you're told your child will never be able to read, write, probably not be able to functionally take care of herself in any capacity, then you strive to see her become what she did; a wonderful, successful young woman.”
Despite their initial struggles, Marley’s parents took her epilepsy diagnosis as an opportunity to encourage the athletic side they saw in their daughter.
“It's just overwhelming seeing what she's accomplished, how she proved (the experts) wrong,” said Tannis. “With Marley, it's mind over matter. When she wants to do something, she'll do it and she sets high goals for herself.”
As Marley’s training has stepped up, so has her community. The owners of the Tim Hortons she works at full-time have been super understanding about offering her time off to train with CrossFit Kitchener, who offered the athlete training after her previous gym closed.
“In the beginning finding programs that would take somebody with a disability and coaches that could understand what they were dealing with was very difficult,” said Tannis. “A lot of the programs for people with disabilities are also very expensive; Marley has a supportive family, but a lot of our athletes don't so that's the biggest challenge.”
According to a news release, this year’s athlete selection for the Special Olympics Team Canada Training Squad 2023 was not based on results at a Special Olympics Canada Summer Games but rather distributed based on athlete registration at each Provincial/Territorial Chapter.
This was due to the cancellation of programs and Games throughout the pandemic.
“We’re excited for a year of firsts; it’s been a difficult past few years for Special Olympics communities across Canada, and I want this team to be the flame that re-ignites the movement,” said Susan Lamboo, Chef de Mission. “It’s going to take a lot of hard work and commitment to prepare for our return to the world stage, but my hope for this team is that they will inspire athletes, coaches, and volunteers across the country to remember it’s worth it – and we all have it in us.”