Larger-than-life Canadian powerlifter sets records in Games finale

Special Olympics World Games: Jackie Barrett (1:00)

11-time Special Olympics powerlifting medalist Jackie Barrett explains how he got the nickname "The Newfoundland Moose." (1:00)

LOS ANGELES -- In what will be remembered as a finale unlike any other in Special Olympics history, Jackie Barrett brought the 2015 World Summer Games to a close Saturday night as only the self-anointed "Newfoundland Moose" could.

The car-sized powerlifter from Gillams, Newfoundland, set three World Games records in his farewell appearance, securing his 13th gold medal in a career that began in 1999. His squat of 277.5kg (611.8 pounds) broke his own mark by 10 kilograms, and his dead lift of 297.5kg (655.9 pounds) edged P.G. Griffin's 1999 record by 2.5kg (5.5 pounds). His combined total, including bench press, also set a new record at 697.5kg (1,537.7 pounds).

"I am the Moose!" Barrett shouted after setting the squat mark.

Not that there was any doubt.

Main attractions are rare at Special Olympics competitions, which celebrate participation over triumph. But if ever there were a main attraction, it is Barrett. Fans began lining up outside the competition venue at the L.A. Convention Center an hour before his event began. Alternating chants of "Moose! Moose!" and "Jack-ie! Jack-ie!" filled the room when he was announced as being on deck to lift. When he completed an attempt successfully, he roared and the crowd erupted. Then he held his fingers up above his forehead to simulate moose antlers.

"I felt more pressure due to the fact that I had a lot more attention than usual," Barrett, 41, said. "The people here made me feel like a superstar."

Moments after the competition ended, Barrett and his father, Robert, shared an emphatic embrace in the middle of the still-incredulous crowd. "My mom would be very proud of me today," Jackie said, to which his dad replied, "Oh, she is proud of you."

Jeannee Barrett, Jackie's mother and Robert's wife of 41 years, died of lung cancer last year after a nearly two-year battle. "She was Jackie's driving force, his biggest fan," Robert said. "She was his everything."

To ensure she remained with Jackie on his way to Special Olympics glory, Robert received a special permit to bring some of her ashes in a miniature urn to Los Angeles. He gave it to Jackie after Saturday's competition, and Jackie pressed it against his cheek and closed his eyes. "I feel her spirit always," he said.

Barrett's records Saturday capped an unlikely career built on discipline and commitment. As a teenager, he was "thin as a pencil," his father said, and a standout swimmer. He switched to football in high school and began lifting weights to bulk up. Because he was autistic and still smaller than his teammates, his parents worried that he would get hurt playing football, but they allowed it anyway.

"We talked about it and said, well, whatever he wants to do, we can't keep him in a shell or lock him in a room his whole life," said Robert, a former Navy engineer and retired police officer.

Barrett earned a computer science degree from St. Mary's University and kept lifting weights, eventually anointing himself the "Halifax Hercules." He later decided he was more of a moose and switched nicknames mid-career.

His determination to maximize his potential has always been his defining characteristic, those close to him say.

"The amount that he lifts is amazing," Canadian coach Ross MacIntosh said, "but what sets him apart from everybody else is the drive. You have your Michael Jordans in other sports; they are always a step ahead. That's Jackie. Nobody has to tell him to get out of bed and go to the gym. He's there before the gym opens."

Maintaining his independence is also important, a trait instilled by his mother. He works from home as a webmaster for a private school and has always taken great pride in achieving what he does as a powerlifter on his own. This led to a unique role for MacIntosh, who has known him for 20 years.

MacIntosh tells a story of when he asked Barrett how he could help. "He looked me straight in the eye and said, 'Stay out of my way.' That's Jackie in a nutshell," MacIntosh said.

On Saturday night, a large contingent of family, friends and fellow Canadians celebrated Barrett's record-breaking performance. Many had tears in their eyes.

Barrett, who said he plans to become a powerlifting coach in retirement, held up a Newfoundland flag and a furry stuffed moose, beaming.