A fierce competitor
Carbondale's Alex Bender medals at Special Olympics Winter Games
Alex Bender said the mountain reminded her a bit of Snowmass, her favorite hometown ski hill.
She certainly performed like she was cruising on home powder.
Bender, a 19-year-old from Carbondale, brought home a couple of medals and a ribbon from her overseas trek to Pyeongchang, South Korea, where she competed in the Special Olympics World Winter Games.
In her first trip out of the United States, Bender skied to silver in her division of the intermediate super-G, to bronze in the slalom and to fifth place in the giant slalom at Yongpyong Ski Resort.
“It was great,” she said. “I enjoyed it. It was really fun.”
Bender’s medal haul impressed her skiing buddies back at Snowmass.
“They’re really proud of me,” she proclaimed.
Bender, who has Down syndrome, spent two weeks in South Korea with her United States teammates. The squad met in Los Angeles and flew into Seoul for the Jan. 29–Feb. 5 event, which featured nearly 3,300 athletes from 112 countries at the site of the 2018 Winter Olympics.
A ferocious competitor, nothing rattles or distracts Bender on race day.
“She gets really serious,” said her mother, Margaret, who made the trip abroad to cheer on her daughter. “You have to go up to the top of the run and wait for a long time before the race. When she goes up there, she doesn’t want to talk to me.”
She’s almost too competitive sometimes, her mom said. That’s where her participation with the Roaring Fork Mountain Niños, the Roaring Fork Valley-based Special Olympics team with which Alex trains, has helped.
“They’re wonderful,” said Margaret, whose family moved to Colorado from Deerfield, Ill., in 2006. “They’re really good about teaching good sportsmanship.”
Alex is now a good sport, and she remains good at sports. Her accolade-packed Special Olympics résumé also features a summertime trip to Lincoln, Neb., for the 2010 USA National Games. There, she competed in the 100-meter dash, 200 dash and 400-meter relay in track and field.
Regional and state-level events also whet the 2012 Basalt High School graduate’s competitive appetite. Alex earned her chance for a Worlds selection by virtue of her performance in the 2012 Special Olympics Colorado Winter Games at Copper Mountain, where she claimed gold in the slalom.
No matter the event, Alex almost always has a gallery of fans on hand to watch her compete. Her mom and older sister, Courtney, made the trip to South Korea. Alex’s aunt, Susan, and cousin, Kelsey, were also there to cheer on their favorite Special Olympian.
When they weren’t rooting Alex on, they squeezed in a little sightseeing.
“We went over to the coast, which was cool,” Margaret said. “My father was a Korean War vet, so we checked out the DMZ (Korean Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea). We also got over to Seoul for one day to see the sights. And it had some really cool shopping.”
Alex and her mom jumped right back on a plane within days of returning from the Pyeongchang Games, setting out for the northeastern United States, where Alex had an admission interview at The College of New Jersey. Between the curriculum offered by the prestigious public institution and the fact Margaret’s family is from New Jersey, The College of New Jersey would be an ideal fit for Alex if she’s accepted.
Before she begins her academic future, though, Alex remains busy with her competitive present.
This Friday, she’ll head to Sunlight Mountain Resort for a Special Olympics regional event, and on March 3 it’s the state competition at Copper Mountain.
And, sure enough, Alex will bring her competitive fire to Grand Junction this summer for the June 1–2 Special Olympics Colorado Summer Games, which are being hosted by Colorado Mesa University.