Area Special Olympian to compete at worlds | AspenTimes.com

Area Special Olympian to compete at worlds

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

When she first received the news, Alex Bender “jumped up and down for an hour.”

Her mother, Margaret, was a little more reserved.

“She embraces opportunities like this so wholeheartedly that I almost believed she was going to be chosen from the beginning,” Margaret Bender said Thursday of her daughter, who recently was selected to participate in the upcoming Special Olympics Winter World Games. “She’s just sort of a magical person that works really hard for things.”

Two years ago, Alex, now a recent Basalt High graduate who has Down syndrome, represented Colorado at her first Special Olympics USA National Games. Come January, the 19-year-old will be competing for her country.

By virtue of her performance in March’s Special Olympics Colorado Winter Games at Copper Mountain, where she won gold in slalom, Alex was selected to ski at January’s World Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.

Alex, one of five athletes from Colorado, will join 3,000 participants from 112 countries for two weeks of competition in skiing, snowboarding, figure skating and speedskating, among other sports, Margaret Bender said.

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She added, “I’m absolutely proud of Alex, but I’m also grateful and thankful we live in a really cool place. All the opportunities she’s had here have helped create a really well-rounded person.”

The Bender family moved from Chicago to the valley in 2006. Soon after, Alex joined the Roaring Fork Mountain Ninos, an organization committed to creating recreational, training and competitive opportunities for youth with developmental disabilities.

That same year, Alex learned to ski with Challenge Aspen. Four short years later, she won two golds at the state’s Special Olympics Winter Games.

She also has excelled on the track. Alex competed in the 100, 200 and the 4×100-meter relay at 2010’s National Games in Lincoln, Neb.

“That was special. An Olympic event is life-changing no matter what (level) it is,” Margaret Bender said. “To see that level of competition and camaraderie, it just really puts perspective on your world. You don’t sweat the little things anymore.

“It gives her a sense of accomplishment, independence and confidence, which all athletes experience.”

Alex is slated to meet her U.S. teammates and coaches during a December training camp at Lake Placid, N.Y. Then, it’s on to South Korea.

Her parents will be there to cheer Alex on. Siblings Courtney, a student at the University of Pennsylvania, and Tom, a Basalt High senior, are lobbying to make the trip, too.

“This is a pleasant surprise, and we’re all very excited,” Bender said. “I believe in my heart that when Alex works her hardest … the world comes to her.”

jmaletz@aspentimes.com