Thomas Cantara: Breaking Records as a Special Olympian
The Special Olympics NH team has its roots beginning in 1968 when six young men from Laconia, NH participated in the Special Olympics World Games in Chicago, IL.
Fast forward to the 1990s, a young boy named Thomas Cantara attends a softball practice where the team invites him to toss a ball around and it's then that he falls in love with the spirit of athleticism and competition that embody the Special Olympics team of NH.
Thomas is diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome – a diagnosis which falls on the autism spectrum. He refers to it as an invisible illness that he must cope and reconcile with each day. He’s a committed athlete and volunteer with the Special Olympics team and he recalls competing in his first swimming competition when he was only nine years old at the YMCA swimming competition in Nashua, NH. “I’ve always been competitive,” he explains to Manchester Information.
This interviewer had no idea how many sporting events an athlete could be involved with through the team. Proudly Thomas smiled and informed Manchester Information of all the sports he has played with the NH team including track and field, golf, bowling, softball, swimming, floor hockey, downhill skiing, basketball as well as soccer. Quite the impressive list we must say, Mr. Cantara.
He has earned many ribbons and medals, but it’s the opportunities that the Special Olympics has provided him that he values the most as just this past February, he was a recipient of the James Desmarais Special Recognition award. And in 2022, he earned the October Athlete of the Month Award.
Outside the realm of the team, he is a dedicated long-distance runner, insisting that “the longer the distance, the better.” This past April, he ran a marathon in Boston and passed the finish line with an impressive time of 2:38.25. Again, he credits The Special Olympics for providing him with the opportunities to explore distance running and to attend events like the Chicago Marathon, which he ran in at 2:36.28 – a world record for a Special Olympian.
These social opportunities help Thomas to “stay motivated to spend with others and run with others while competing. It’s great to be a part of a team,” he says.
His dad was in the military when Thomas was younger. When his family was stationed in Louisiana, Thomas started preschool. The teachers observed that his language skills were below some of his peers and he was tested for Autism. At the age of three, he was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.
“Growing up I had challenges,” Thomas explains. But he says he keeps trying new things to enable him to work harder and past difficult behaviors by identifying what he did in the past that was beneficial for him.
“I go through a challenge every day, but I am learning to cope with it.” For him, this entails looking at the situation with a positive outlook and determining the ways to improve himself to do more. He insists that staying active has helped and kept his mind sharper.
When he’s not running or participating in athletic happenings, he works as a full-time custodian with Litchfield Middle School. He works second shift and says that this job is good for him because through socialization with others, his symptoms related to Asperger’s has improved.
Thomas’ drive and hard work don’t stop there either. He has goals to improve his time in Marathon running. Right now, he runs about 2:38 but he’s hoping to improve his time to 2:34- 2:35. He’s participating in a Race this coming September in Keene, NH.
His volunteer service started in 2007 when he began to volunteer with track and field with the Nashua team. It wasn’t until 2019 that then joined the Manchester, NH team. Because of dedicated and hard-working athletes like Thomas, The Special Olympics team continues to grow its membership and outreach.