Rowan Benton was a little scared, but that wasn’t evident from his glowing smile after he became the first Winter Special Olympics competitor from the Washington County area.
Even better, Benton was able to secure the first two gold medals in skiing events for Area 3 during the event that was held at Ober Gatlinburg at the end of January.
“We are just so proud of Rowan,” his mother Alicia Benton said. “When he first got out there, you could tell he was a little scared, but he kept at it and he really enjoyed it.”
Rowan has cerebral palsy and apraxia, which limit his motor skills and made skiing harder. Early in life, Rowan wasn’t very keen on hitting the slopes, but a couple of years ago the family decided to allow Rowan to give skiing another go.
During his return, he was he able to go down the slopes with the help of his family and by holding onto a ski pole for balance. The hobby turned into something more when Alicia learned about the Winter Special Olympics event.
In order to compete, however, Rowan would need to ski unassisted. So the Benton’s continued to work with Rowan, and he was able to be sponsored by the Alpine Ski Center. His mother and sister, Caroline, took the extra step of training so that they could coach him in the Special Olympics and they also worked with him on becoming more independent to put on his boots and skis by himself.
Caroline said it was a great bonding experience for her family and she was overjoyed after watching her brother bring home two gold medals.
“He is my best friend,” she said.
Overcoming his fears wasn’t the easiest for Rowan, but once they got him on the slopes, it was hard to get him off. During the first day of training for the events Rowan was having so much fun that he skipped lunch to get in a few more runs down the slope.
“When we got out on the hill, he really just practiced so hard that first day,” Alicia said. “He fell a lot, but he was having a great time.”
The Benton’s left the slopes eager to see how the next day would go, but it appeared that Rowan was a natural.
“It was like overnight, he just slept on it and took all this information and he did great the day of the competition,” Alicia said. “I was super proud of him and he is super proud of himself. But the whole experience with the Special Olympics was really just very positive.”
Rowan’s success brought smiles to more than just the Benton family, it was also exciting for Benton’s teachers at Liberty Bell. His teacher, Alison Russell, was all smiles when Rowan surprised her by showing up with the two gold medals he had won.
“It’s why we do what we do,” Russell said.
Alicia was happy that Rowan didn’t give up, even though he fell down a few times.
“He showed incredible persistence,” she said. “But I am most proud of him for the growth that he had and the independence he gained.”