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story.lead_photo.caption Alex Smith of Hensley shows off the three gold medals he recently won at the Special Olympics in Seattle. - Photo by Sam Pierce

SHERIDAN — Alex Smith said the best part about representing Sheridan in the Special Olympics in Seattle earlier this month was “getting to eat all the food.”

“It was fun; we got to run around a little bit,” said Smith, 19. “We ate pretty good, and we had a good time.”

Smith, who was born with autism, is the first person to ever represent Sheridan High School at the national level for Special Olympics. He won three gold medals in powerlifting, including the deadlift, the bench press and combination.

“He wanted to break the lifting record,” said his mom, Sandra Duncan, “but it was either break the record or get a medal.”

Duncan said that to qualify for a medal, the judges are very particular.

“You’ve got to do it just right for the lift to count,” she said. “They had three judges. If two or three do not agree, than they lost that lift. The technique is very important.

“So he was encouraged to lift lighter and do it clean, and every single one of his lifts was clean.”

Smith graduated from Sheridan High School in 2017. He is currently enrolled at the Arkansas Career Training Institute in Hot Springs, but he qualified for the nationals when he was in high school.

Duncan said that after Smith graduated, he attended a summer camp in 2017 and was awarded a gold certificate based on his abilities and character. The camp takes place at John Brown University in Siloam Springs.

Debbie Jones, director of special services for the Sheridan School District, said one thing she has always been aware of regarding Smith is his sportsmanship.

“He is always shaking hands and introducing himself,” Jones said. “I saw him on ESPN, coming out of the tunnel during the opening ceremonies, and he just had a big smile on his face ….

“… I have watched him grow [since he was in the third grade]. Communication is a very difficult thing for him, but Special Olympics has helped him grow and has changed his whole overall behavior.

“He is a very good kid.”

Jones said Smith has always wanted to be a powerlifter, but competitors have to be at least 16 years old, and the program wasn’t offered at Sheridan.

“We were able to reach out to the Bryant area and the Civitan organization,” Jones said. “They had a coaching and powerlifting group. Then he started and shocked everybody.

“He started competing by the end of his junior year and was invited to the Area 10 competitions.”

After doing well there, Smith was enticed by it and wanted to get more and more involved.

“He has really become quite the powerlifter,” Jones said. “Physically, he has changed a little bit, lost a little bit of weight, getting into shape.”

Smith’s mom said he spent about four months training with Hollywood Athletics and Wellness in Hot Springs. She said he would spend about two to three hours a week there. He was also assisted by Sheridan High School Yellowjackets football coach Carl Owens.

“What an opportunity it was to work with Alex and watch him progress from learning how to grip the bar all the way to winning three gold medals,” Owens said. “Powerlifting takes a lot of focus, effort and resolve.

“Alex deserves so much credit for pushing through and representing all of us in the

YJNation with serious strength.”

When Smith first started competing, he participated in track and field events such as throwing a softball. But he would throw it too far, so he was moved to the shot put.

“That’s the neat thing about Sheridan,” Jones said. “Our Special Olympic groups are growing and changing and giving opportunities for things that might not have been there before.”

Sheridan has had athletes compete in the state competitions before but has never had anyone reach the national level or compete in the powerlifting competitions.

“It’s awesome,” Smith said. “It’s plain out awesome — to see new places, look around and just get to see a new place.”

It was the farthest he had ever been from home, but Smith said he was not nervous — not even for the flight.

“I think we were more nervous than he was,” Duncan said.

Duncan’s husband, Lonnie, and Smith’s 17-year-old sister, Abbie Smith, attended the event as well.

“Lonnie has been real supportive of Alex and has watched him compete a lot,” Jones said.

Smith said that while in Seattle, he had the chance to watch the flag football competitions, as well as running and basketball.

“It was neat to see so many different sports,” Smith said.

But his favorite thing was the food.

“I liked it all,” Smith said. “The cafeteria had Chinese food and everything else.”

Smith currently works for Duncan Concrete in Hensley and is studying auto collision and detail. He said he likes to paint and draw and eventually would like to build tiny homes.

“In not too long, I will be able to get my driver’s license,” Smith said. “I am looking forward to driving because I won’t have to wait on my mom.

“I can head out the door.”

Staff writer Sam Pierce can be reached at (501) 244-4314 or spierce@arkansasonline.com.

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