Jayden Van Dyk is counting down the 300 days until his Special Olympics football team will line up for the Freemasons New Zealand Special Olympics National Summer Games.
Like his Waikato team-mates and the 1600 other athletes across New Zealand, Jayden was bitterly disappointed when the 2021 National Games had to be postponed for a year, after running thousands of kilometres to raise funds for himself and his team-mates.
Jayden has the rare genetic disorder KBG syndrome, which only 300 people in the world have, and caused him to develop autism and ADHD.
Sports provided Jayden with a productive outlet for his ADHD, but he soon realised sports gave him so much more than just fitness.
“When I’m playing sport, I feel like a normal 15-year-old boy, I don’t stand out as different or always needing more help.”
Early last year, Jayden entered the Run NZ Run 2021km in a Year Challenge which gave him the idea to start a fundraising campaign to raise money to compete in sporting events.
The long list included the Special Olympics National Summer Games, the Halberg Games, cross country competitions, Tough Guy mud runs and Ultimate Frisbee tournaments.
Jayden created a Facebook page for his friends and family to follow his progress and donate cash, and started running towards his goal of clocking up 2021km.
By running 5km to school each day, as well as cross country and frisbee events, the dial was ticking over fast and by October 1, he had completed his running target.
“He ran over 200km in September alone,” says his Mum Tina, “and we went through seven pairs of shoes last year.”
In the process, Jayden won two gold medals at the Halberg Games in the 50m and 1500m, placed 7th in the Tough Guy Tough Girl competition for his age-group and was player of the tournament when he helped his Special Olympics football team qualify for the National Games.
Jayden’s successful fundraising efforts in 2021 helped his Special Olympics football team raise enough money to bring everyone to the Games, starting on December 8 across Hamilton.
They now looking forward to competing in upcoming tournaments and are looking for new members to form a second team.
Tina Van Dyk explains why sports and Special Olympics have come a blessing for her son.
“When you have ADHD, you have to find an outlet or it becomes destructive.”
Running 2021km was the perfect extra-curricular activity “because he’s doing something productive and it took most of the year to do which was great as most of the things he does are over in a day.”
The pandemic lockdown caused the postponement of the games but were particularly hard for athletes like Jayden.
“My son lives for football and he really missed his friends, but at least he could still run and train at home,” says Tina, who adds that her son even got into virtual marathons to get through lockdowns.
“Even Level 4 lockdown couldn’t stop him.”