After his high school graduation, Ben Bluemond and his family didn’t know what was next for him. “We hadn’t even considered Special Olympics Illinois,” Ben’s father, Jim admitted.

“When we thought of Special Olympics, we thought it might just be for younger people,” Ben’s mother, Christine said. “We didn’t know they’d have programming for athletes like Ben.”

a person wearing a blue and white jacket and running on snow

Ben has been competing as an athlete for the past 18 months. He competes in snowshoeing as well as track and field. His first Winter Games was just last year, where he won gold in his division for the 800- and 1600-meter snowshoeing races.

Ben said he’s loved this past 18 months as a Special Olympics Illinois athlete. “I’ve become more socially active,” Ben said. “I’ve gotten more in life than I ever desired.”

Like most people, Ben wanted more social opportunities after graduating high school. He’s happy to say Special Olympics Illinois has provided those to him. From eSports nights where “you can hear him yelling, shouting, laughing,” Jim grins, to Leadership Academy, Ben has made many new friends. “His social calendar is always full,” Christine smiled.

Ben described qualifying for Winter Games again as “awesome.” He won three medals, gold, silver, and bronze. He said he’s glad to be going back to Galena. His parents are happy to join him there as well. And although Ben is an excellent solo snowshoer, he’s most looking forward to competing in team relays and cheering on his friends.

“It’s the team spirit that makes it so awesome,” Ben said. “When you win together as a team, nothing’s better.”

a man holding a baby

Christine and Jim have found the team spirit of Special Olympics Illinois infectious as well. For Christine, she enjoys getting to meet other families and groups. She said Ben has reached a lot of people in the Special Olympics Illinois community. “People keep telling him, he inspires joy. Parents will tell me how much it means to them to know their kids can grow up and know joy like Ben does.”

“Our own circle has expanded,” Jim added. “It’s like a family affair.”

Learn more about the 2023 Winter Games here.