Adam Irwin-Gunn will compete in basketball-Special Olympics at the B.C. Winter Games in Penticton from Feb. 25 to 28.

Victoria player using memory of friend to compete at Games

Adam Irwin-Gunn's face lights up when he talks about sports.

Adam Irwin-Gunn’s face lights up when he talks about sports.

The Victoria youth is giddy with excitement explaining his first time playing stand-up basketball with his friends at Arbutus Middle School last year.

“One of my favourite things about basketball is the rebounds. I love watching my friends get the shots in,” said the teenager. “I’m happy to keep the ball away from the opposite team, I tend to be defence in most sports I’ve started playing because I’m protective of the ball for our team.”

He also plays wheelchair basketball, ball hockey and softball.

For Irwin-Gunn, who has autism, playing sports is not only a way to maintain an active lifestyle, it’s also a way of paying tribute to a close friend, who passed away recently.

Irwin-Gunn met Caleb roughly six years ago while playing Minecraft online. Thirteen-year-old Caleb lived in Georgia and though they never met in person, the duo became close friends, often bonding over sports and chatting via Skype everyday.

But in October, Caleb died suddenly from an undiagnosed heart condition.

“The hardest thing was hearing “I’ll see you tomorrow,” said Irwin-Gunn, who was in drama class when he heard the sad news. “I was in shock. For the longest time it didn’t seem like it was real. Even now, there are days when I miss him.”

Over the weeks, even playing games on the computer and sports reminded Irwin-Gunn of his friend.

But he’s turned his grief into hope, using his friend’s memory in a positive way.

One time, while playing basketball with deflated balls, Irwin-Gunn admitted he was getting frustrated and was about to lose it when he reminded himself that’s not how Caleb would react, which helped calm him down.

Now, Irwin-Gunn is holding his head high and will compete alongside his teammates in basketball-Special Olympics at the B.C. Winter Games in Pentiction later this month.

“It feels like something I can share with him even though he’s not here anymore,” Irwin-Gunn said, adding he also put Caleb’s name, number and birthday on the back of his Toronto Blue Jays jersey.

“We were both very inclusive of people when it came to sports. His coach would say he was almost like a coach himself because he was so supportive of the team. After hearing that, I noticed I was kind of doing the same thing. I still want to continue that for him.”

Irwin-Gunn hopes to medal, but also plans to take in the many sights and sounds of the Games with fellow teammates Myles Kitson from Oak Bay and Meliah Motchman from View Royal.

The B.C. Winter Games takes place Feb. 25 to 28 in Penticton and is a multi-sport event including archery, badminton, biathlon, curling, diving, figure skating, ringette and skiing cross-country.

There are more than 80 coaches and athletes from Vancouver Island who will compete.