WEST ORANGE, NJ — Eleven years after he learned how to ski, Jordan Cohn took home two medals in the sport at the Special Olympics Winter Games at Mountain Creek ski resort.
The 21-year-old West Orange native, who was classified as being on the autism spectrum when he was 3 years old, started training for the event more than a year ago, when he and his parents were looking for career possibilities for him.
“He already had an affinity for athletics,” Richard Cohn, Jordan’s father, said in a phone interview with the West Orange Chronicle on Feb. 14. “He’s good on roller skates, and I taught him to ski. So when we were thinking of what we would do, we thought it should be athletics. We could see him getting satisfaction from that.”
The suggestion to get involved with the Special Olympics came from former Roosevelt Middle School Principal Frank Corrado, and soon extra athletic training time was added to Jordan’s school schedule.
“He gained a lot of discipline,” Richard Cohn said about Jordan’s thrice-weekly training sessions. “You could see the satisfaction on his face.”
Jordan and his family had been to the Winter Games to watch the events before, and Richard Cohn said he and Jordan’s mother, Monica, wanted him to be a part of the fun.
“We saw all the different people that come together, and it was awesome,” Richard Cohn said. “So we wanted to make him part of it. He knew how to ski, but he had never competed.”
Richard Cohn became a certified coach for the Special Olympics because there wasn’t a coach for alpine events in Essex County, and then Jordan was literally off to the races. He competed in the giant slalom race, for which skiers ski down a hill between gates, and the super-G, which is a speed event that also features gates.
“He likes to go faster, so I knew he would have fun with that,” Richard Cohn said. “But the scary part is, if you miss a gate, you’re disqualified.”
Jordan missed a gate during his giant slalom run, but turned around and headed back up the hill to avoid disqualification. He made it through the missed gate and the rest of the gates, coming in second place. Jordan crossed the finish line with a time of 52.97 seconds in the super-G, good for a gold medal. He edged out the silver medalist by less than a second.
“The best part was after, he came over to us and put his head against my wife’s head and we could really tell he was saying ‘thank you,’” Richard Cohn said. “He really felt like he achieved something and he was happy. I think it’s a big confidence booster for him.”
Making the day even more special for Jordan and his family was a connection he already had to the Olympics. His grandfather, Charles Mays, was a member of the United States Olympic Track Team and competed in the long jump in Mexico City at the 1968 summer games. Jordan’s bib number for his ski contests was 68.
Now that the winter games are over, Jordan is getting ready for the next round of events. Each season has its own Special Olympics games, and he’s training for powerlifting, swimming and equestrian competing.
“If this is what he’s good at, then why shouldn’t he do that?” his father said. “I’m hoping this will be inspirational to parents or young men and women with disabilities. Why can’t he do what other kids can do? That’s why he learned to swim and ski and ride a bike. They have the skills, they just take a little longer to process it. So if Jordan’s story can inspire someone else, that would be great.”
Photos Courtesy of Richard Cohn