Special Olympics Veteran

Featured in Maroon & White magazine, Spring 2007

By Paul Fitzgerald (BA’97, MA‘06) 

Jackie Barrett BComm'98

For Barrett, having a crowd — regardless of its size — and lifting this much iron, is all in a day’s work being an avid powerlifter — a sport he picked up while a student at Saint Mary’s University. After he graduated from the Sobey School of Business at SMU in the Spring of 1998, Barrett has showed the world that he is a true achiever in his sport of choice. 

Jackie, how does it feel to be competing in the Special Olympics World Games in Shanghai, China this October?

For me it’s definitely a great honour and pride to represent Canada for the second time in my Special Olympics career. The first time was the 1999 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Raleigh-Durham, USA. Competing in the Special Olympics World Games this year will also give me a chance to enjoy Chinese culture, a chance to meet other Special Olympians from around the world, enjoy the thrill of another international level competition, and fulfill my dream of traveling to China.

What kind of training is involved in preparing for such a big event?

When I was training for the 2006 Special Olympics Canada Summer Games in Brandon, Manitoba I often trained up to three hours a day, and three times a week. One day is set aside for squats and leg workouts, another day for bench press and arm related workouts, and another day for deadlift, shoulder, leg, and arm workouts. Right now, I'm training between two and three hours a day, four days a week. In addition to the squat, bench press, and deadlift workouts, I'm also doing speed bench press workouts as well. As for my diet, I don't often have a special diet to follow, just enjoy the foods other people eat.

How would you attribute your experience at Saint Mary’s attributed to you being such a big success story on the world stage?

When I was a Commerce Student at SMU, I had to perform group and Management, Systems Analysis and Design, Computer Configurations, and Data Communications. Because powerlifting is a high injury risk sport, being able to perform under tremendous pressure in front of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of spectators, and staying focused without showing any nerves is a valuable asset. Performing class presentations in front of over 60 students has given me an ability to perform huge feats of strength and power in pressure situations with little or no problems. The experience I gained in group and individual in front of up to 1,600 people with little or no problem. Being a student at Saint Mary's also taught me about goal setting hard work, self- discipline, and self- dedication in all courses, which carries over not just to your academics, but also in sport.

What was your time at SMU like as a student?

My time at Saint Mary's University was one of the best experiences of my life. I had a chance to make new friends from around the world, take on new challenges, enjoy some social activities in the Games Room, and spend some time lifting weights at The Tower. The only sad point about my time at Saint Mary's is after my graduation in 1998 as I miss hearing from my friends and acquaintances I met while being a student. I'm not worried too much since I compete in powerlifting because I love the sport, and the joy of lifting tremendous weights. Since the Special Olympics World Summer Games will give me an opportunity to meet, socialize, and compete with athletes from other nations, I believe my time as a student at Saint Mary's will be beneficial at the Special Olympics World Games.

Do you have any professors/administrators who you credit for your success in life?

The administrator I give credit to is Dr. Elizabeth Chard, the former Registrar at Saint Mary’s, who was also an active volunteer with Special Olympics Nova Scotia. Elizabeth has put a lot of work and effort to make Special Olympics Nova Scotia very successful through her diligent work in preparing for the Special Olympics Nova Scotia Summer Games, and the 1994 Special Olympics Canada Summer Games. Without her hard work and effort, Special Olympians would not have an opportunity to showcase their athleticism and skills at the provincial, national, or even international level.

So, what made you get into powerlifting?

When I was a student at J. L. Ilsley High School, I usually spent my lunch hour lifting weights to assist me in two sports: swimming and football. After about two months of lifting weights, I notice my speed dramatically increased, and I stuck with weight lifting as part of my cross training for swimming. During my freshman and sophomore years at Saint Mary's University, I normally spent between one to two hours a day lifting weights at The Tower to prepare for the 1994 Special Olympics Canada Summer Games in Halifax as a swimmer. When I competed at the 1994 Special Olympics Canada Summer Games, I watched the powerlifting competition, and I was amazed at the amount of weight some Special Olympians were lifting. One athlete even performed a deadlift almost three times their bodyweight. At the 1994 Special Olympics Canada Summer Games, one of my competitors asked: ‘If I was so strong, then why don't I take up powerlifting?’ Later in 1994, my swimming coach also suggested I should take up powerlifting since I love to lift weights. Before I took up powerlifting, the big challenge for me was finding a coach or lifter with experience since the sport was not known in Halifax in the mid 1990's. But in February of 1995, after a weight room attendant at The Tower found one or two powerlifting coaches, I was able to start training and competing as a powerlifter. After the 1996
Special Olympics Nova Scotia Summer Games, I decided to retire as a swimmer to focus more on my studies at Saint Mary's and training for the 1997 Special Olympics Nova Scotia Summer Games as a powerlifter.

Can you tell me your successes to date as a powerlifter?

My personal bests for powerlifting are 585 lbs. in the squat; 337 lbs. in the bench press; and 651 lbs. in the deadlift. I previously competed in the 1998, 2002, and 2006 Special Olympics Canada Summer Games, and also the 1999 Special Olympics World Summer Games as a powerlifter. I competed in the 1994 Special Olympics Canada Summer Games as a swimmer. My other successes as a powerlifter include setting over 60 Special Olympics Canada records and approximately 10 unofficial Special Olympics World Records. I'm also the current Nova Scotia Powerlifting Association Men's Open Super-Heavyweight record holder in the deadlift. In 2000, I was also the runner-up for Sport Nova Scotia “Male Athlete of the Year” and Special Olympics Canada “Male Athlete of the Year” which was a great moment in life.

What advice do you have for others who want to be successful like you?

Never give up. Like with school, work, and other life things there will come times when we get stuck or reach our sticking point which make us feel like giving up. When you're in this situation, always seek help from your coach, instructor, teacher, or peers to help you get past these hurdles. I have experienced many hurdles as a powerlifter and as a former student, and I always found a way to overcome it by changing my training strategy or seek assistance when needed. Other pieces of advice I have for others is remain committed to what it is you want to achieve in life, always listen to others, be mentally prepared, and set your goals and aim for it.