Jordan VanKooten, 15, a Special Olympics athlete from Pawnee (Area 17), has rockets on his feet. Before his races, he “prepares” his shoes by “lighting the rockets” on them. Jordan participated in the 100-meter walk and tennis ball throw at this year’s Summer Games. Before each throw, he would “light the rocket” on the ball.
Jordan became involved with Special Olympics Illinois just two years ago. His father, Kelly VanKooten, sought out information to get his son involved. He was directed to Auburn schools and coach Terry Szerletich.
“I wanted him to be active in something,” said VanKooten. “I’m a single dad with two teenage sons. (Special Olympics) is something my family can do together.”
VanKooten had the medical application done in record time, and Jordan got scores in for the 100-meter walk and tennis ball throw. Since then, he has participated in basketball skills, volleyball skills, and golf, in addition to his track and field events.
VanKooten is an assistant coach for the Auburn team and helps with the training of athletes. There are four athletes from Pawnee on the team. Jordan will be starting high school in the fall at Auburn with his fellow teammates. Jordan’s older brother, Dylan, assists at volleyball and basketball practice when he’s done with his football practices.
In just two short years, VanKooten has seen quite a transformation in his son.
“Before Special Olympics, (Jordan) was not a talkative, social guy,” said VanKooten. “Now he’s joking, laughing with the other kids on his team. He knows these kids are like him. There’s an attraction there that says ‘hey, you’re like me.’ ” Since becoming involved with Special Olympics, Jordan has grown both “socially and athletically.”
Jordan is on the autism spectrum and doesn’t react a lot to his successes, but his dad said he is “a serious competitor.”
“I can’t beat him,” said VanKooten, with a laugh. “If I challenge him by racing against him and being competitive, he’ll rise to the occasion. He wants to beat me.”
Jordan won gold medals for both his tennis ball throw and 100-meter walk at this year’s Summer Games. He has won 19 medals and two ribbons in his two years with Special Olympics.
“He loves Special Olympics,” said VanKooten.
“At volleyball skills last year, I happened to be near the awards area when Jordan got his gold medal,” Area 17 Director Darrin Burnett said. “He doesn’t say much, and he doesn’t react much, but there was a small smile and it felt like it lit up the entire room. He’s the kind of athlete that inspires you every single day.”
By Cassidy Obis, Communications Intern