His cheeks are red, his breathing rapid, Zach Butler grimaces as he uses all his strength to pull a 225 lb sled 5o yards. “Come on Zach, let’s own it! We’ve got to earn everything we get,” belted out Bill Burniston, Butler’s strength coach at Performance Academy in Apex. “We don’t want anyone to give us a gold medal. We want to earn it!”
Butler, a Special Olympics Wake County athlete, has been working hard to improve his speed, strength and endurance. The 27 year-old was selected to compete in snowboarding at the 2013 Special Olympics World Winter Games in the Republic of Korea Jan 29 – Feb. 5. Burniston demands a lot. Sweat pours from Butler’s face, its 7:15 a.m. and he has just begun his hour-long workout session. It’s not easy but Butler has shown he is committed.
“One part of myself says just get through it,” Butler relays. “The second part says you can’t do this. It isn’t for you, just quit. I keep going with my first mind and pushing through. It’s gotten better each week. I’m no longer ready to pass out at the end-just tired.”
In late July, Burniston, the director of sports performance at Performance Academy, learned of Butler’s Special Olympics Team USA selection and offered to donate his time two days a week to help him improve.
“We are focusing on his lower body and core exercises, things you need for snowboarding,” said Burniston. “His work ethic is phenomenal and he’s got a lot of determination. Our goal is to get better every day and he’s committed to that. He hasn’t missed one session. And he has improved a lot.”
After a month at Performance Academy, Butler began to notice his hard work paying off. He’d lost 10 pounds and his shirts were no longer snug. His mother caught him admiring his improved physique.
“He asked me, have I got a six-pack yet,” laughed Lynn Butler, Zach’s mother. “I told him not quite yet but keep working. This experience has been so good for him. He looks at himself and says I’m thinner and stronger. He’s so proud of himself and his confidence is soaring.”
“It’s a pain to get up early,” said Butler, who awakes at 4:30 a.m. every Monday and Wednesday in order to be on time for his workout session. “But it’s been well worth it! Bill has been hard on me but also really tells me I can do it too. I know he’s pushing me to be the best snowboarder in Korea. I’m thankful for his help. I should have more control on the slopes and it’ll be even more fun I think! I really am going for the gold there!”
Butler also works out once a week with his local snowboarding coach Bill Rose at O2 Fitness and plays softball and soccer for his church. He has become more aware of what he eats too. His trip to Korea becomes more of a reality with each passing day and he intends to be ready.
“My mind is going to be exploding when I get there,” said Butler. “I’m so excited! I’m nervous too. I’m gonna feel small there but I’m prepared so it’ll be interesting.”
The training regimen at Performance Academy will hopefully give Butler an edge when dealing with circumstances out of his control such as bad weather or steep slopes.
“When things get hard I want him to use that as motivation just as he does in each session with us,” said Burniston. “How bad does he want this? He should be thinking about that and use it to his advantage. We are excited to hear about his success in Korea.”
Its 7:55 a.m., Butler is running shuttles, his least favorite drill. He’s laboring, but doesn’t stop. His workout is just about complete, but there is no time to relax as he’s now one day closer to traveling to Korea! His eyes are on the prize. “Pick it up Zach, Go get it Zach! Good job!”