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Chris Johnstone at the Special Olympics Australia.

Teenager takes on challenge and wins gold

Report by Raphael Canicosa

From an early age, Christopher Johnstone faced some serious challenges.

Born with a heart defect, he required surgery at just seven months old and was later diagnosed with a mild intellectual disability.

But despite the difficulties he has faced over the years, Johnstone, now 15, is making his mark in the sporting world.

A four-goal haul in a 4-2 win over New South Wales in the Special Olympics Australia Junior National Games final earned plaudits for Johnstone and a first gold medal for WA.

It was a special moment for Johnstone, his dad, Greg, mum, Antonia, and all involved in the WA team. They had more to cheer when Johnstone added to his medal collection with gold in 100m, 100m relay and shotput, and a bronze medal in long jump.

“We thought we’ll go over there, we may get flogged, but at least you’ll get experience,” Antonia said. “But the fact that he played so well competing against other states, we were blown away with what he was capable of doing.

“Just watching Chris play out there, whether it was the football, or even when he was just doing the athletics—we were really impressed.”

Football West Inclusive Participation Officer Gordon Duus was proud of Chris and the team’s achievements.

“Theirs are the first Special Olympics gold medals for any WA player in our sport, which gives the team a special place in history,” Duus said.

Johnston plays in Lynwood United’s U16 Division 4 category and Equal Footingball’s open age division.

His dad said football had given his son an outlet to explore his capabilities.

“He’s more determined doing things now,” Greg said.

In his second year of playing, Johnstone won the Disabilities in Football – Player Achievement Award (David Cantoni medal) in 2016, after exceeding expectations and moving into the mainstream team.

Duus, who also coaches Johnstone on a regular basis in Lynwood United’s Equal Footingball Division, said Johnstone was a committed player who took every opportunity.

“He’s a fantastic player to work with,” Duus said. “He’s always trying to pick up the little things to improve himself.

 “He’s the first person out there that I’ve spotted with a diagnosed intellectual disability who has made the effort to go in and join in amongst a talent development program, which is filled with people from all playing levels.

“That’s what every coach wants and every club wants out of their players. They want their players to always aspire to do something the next game or training session, to always improve.”

Antonia said her son was driven to prove people wrong.

 “[Chris] even said, “I like to show off”,” she said. “I suppose in a way for him that’s like saying “I’m putting my talent and ability out there”, and he’ll just go out and do what he has to do.

 “Because he has that intellectual disability, he’s had a lot of criticism growing up, and a lot of put-downs.

“So, he does try to prove people wrong. But I suppose he also tries to prove to himself that he can do it.”

Johnstone looks up to fellow Special Olympics footballer, Chris Minutillo, and hopes he can follow in his footsteps.