The Special Olympics of Illinois hosts its annual Spring Games at Harlem High School this Saturday. Dozens of local athletes will compete, including Belvidere's Brandon Bird.
"These athletes are the hardest working athletes I've ever seen."
Bird began competing at age eight as a track athlete, now he's branching out.
"Just this year alone, Brandon started volleyball, bocce, and softball for the first time. It's been really cool to watch him span his sport ranges, and be successful in all of those as well," says Belvidere Special Olympics coach Amber Eck.
That success was not without its challenges for Brandon and his family - they learned of his Down syndrome diagnosis at birth.
"He had breathing issues when he was first born, he didn't know he could eat and swallow at the same time," says Brandon's mother, Mary. "He came home a few days after I did which was challenging. Learned how to eat just like anyone else, I just told myself, he's a baby, just like any other baby."
Mary calls Brandon's journey an adventure, and a fulfilling one at that.
"It's amazing. It is. When they're born, you're scared, you don't know what to expect, but they're so capable of so many things," Mary says.
Competing in the Special Olympics has improved Brandon's life physically and spiritually.
"Emotionally, it's really brought him out of his shell. He is happier, extremely happy when he can do his sports and be with his friends," Mary says.
He will be grinning from ear to ear at the Spring Games. It'll be a meaningful day for all attendees.
"It's very rewarding even as a coach and as a family member, to see them be successful and to have the light shined on them," says Eck.
Brandon has thrived in that Special Olympics spotlight for twenty years, with another opportunity to showcase his abilities this Saturday in running and javelin events.