Catherine Partlow is a young woman on the move - moving quickly, that is.
The 28-year-old from Whitby, Ont., a 14-year Special Olympics sprinter, has gone to Athens as one of Canada's top medal hopes in the women's dashes.
Partlow has overcome not only rivals in the sprints from 100 metres through relays - winning local, provincial and national gold medals and a Special Olympics 200-metre gold medal in 2007 in Shanghai - but she's battled a condition known as global developmental delay. Skills such as speech are slow to develop, then reach a plateau.
As an infant, Partlow could not speak at all and her father, Tom, recalls she had difficulty with physical tasks such as opening a car door.
She underwent several years of speech therapy and physiotherapy and today is a speaker at Special Olympics Canada events. She holds a part-time job at a Whitby bath and bedroom store called JYSK, stocking and tidying shelves and directing customers on the floor. She has also trained to become one of Canada's fastest Special Olympics athletes afoot. Tom said she runs "about the same times as university girls."
The Games begin June 25 at the same Athens stadium where the 2004 Summer Olympics were held.
"It means a lot to me. I'm looking forward to it [the Athens Special Olympics] I'm very excited to run on the same Olympic track they did," said Partlow, who trains three times a week with track coach Clive Foster and once a week with a Special Olympics coach.
"I should always do my best," said the sprinter, whose target for the 100 metres in Athens is to bring her personal best of 13.4 seconds down into the 12s. She has run 28.3 seconds for the 200.
"Special Olympics has inspired me with more confidence and encouraged me to accomplish my goals," she said in an interview.
At a Special Olympics fundraiser in Toronto last year, she talked about her efforts at school and being grouped with a classmate named Jimmy, who has Down syndrome. They are not the same condition but Partlow and Jimmy were lumped together under the broad heading of special needs.
Other kids didn't bother much with them, she said.
Likewise, though she liked sport and watched her two old brothers play team sports, "I couldn't even try out. … Then my mom heard about Special Olympics and my life changed."
She has worked not only with her regular coaches but also with Canadian Olympian Okiki Akinremi, who has helped her improve her starts and introduced her to some techniques, such as ice baths, used by elite athletes.
(Akinremi has also helped Special Olympics sprinters such as Monique Shah, Marianne Scharf and rhythmic gymnast Christina Judd-Campbell.)
Partlow said she wants to be a coach "to help others with their drills."
She's learned to be part of a team, learned skills, made new friends "who accept me just as I am. I can't imagine my life without Special Olympics."
Special Olympics World Summer Games
Dates: June 25 through July 4
Athletes: 7,000, including 106 Canadians
Operating budget: €73-million ($102.2-million), 65 per cent from donations and private support, 35 per cent from Greek government.
Number of countries: 185
Number of sports: 21 (aquatics, athletics, badminton, basketball, bocce, bowling, cycling, equestrian, soccer, golf, gymnastics, judo, kayaking, power lifting, roller skating, sailing, softball, table tennis, team handball, tennis, volleyball)
Number of sports involving Canadians: Seven (aquatics, athletics, 10-pin bowling, power lifting, soccer, softball, rhythmic gymnastics)
Technical officials and referees: 3,000