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INNOVATE

This Basketball Player With Autism Became First to Receive a Division I Scholarship (His Inspiring Story Is a Lesson in Perseverance)

Kalin Bennett ignored what others told him he couldn’t do. Now, he’s making history.

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BY Scott Mautz - 06 Dec 2018

basketball player with autism

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Every now and then, a story comes along where even the word "inspirational" doesn't seem to do it justice. This is one of those stories.

Kalin Bennett just became the first basketball player with autism in history to receive a Division I basketball scholarship (from Kent State), and his tale is a lesson for leaders, entrepreneurs, and frankly anyone who faces significant challenges of any kind.

The 6' 10", 300 lb. recruit isn't satisfied with the history he'll make on the court. As he told Cleveland.com:

I want to make an impact not just on the court, but with kids that are struggling with the same things I am. I want to use this platform to inspire other kids with autism and non-autism. I want to let them know, hey, if I can do this, you can do it, too. A lot of times they feel alone and by themselves, and I felt that same way growing up.

 

When Bennett was a child, it was believed he was among those with autism that have Autism Spectrum Disorder, and thus he'd remain non-verbal his entire life and may never walk. As a child he had trouble separating reality from fiction and, because he has such a kind heart, would struggle with how people could be so mean-spirited.

As it turned out, Bennett didn't sit up until he was two, didn't walk until he was four, didn't talk until he was seven, and didn't hold a conversation until he was eight. But he was walking and talking, after all. Hard work and therapy had paid off.

He also had a message for the therapist who gave him the initial diagnosis, whom he reconnected with later in his life. He asked her "Are you the one who said I would never do this and never do that?" When she said, "Yes", Bennett responded:

"I hope you haven't told anybody else that because you could ruin their lives."

Maybe I teared up a bit when I read that. Bennett reminds us all of a push we can quietly make to ourselves: "I hope you haven't accepted what limitations others have put on you."

Accepting limitations means limiting success.

The most successful entrepreneurs and leaders engage in sky's the limit thinking, not limited thinking. Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg, and Tim Ferriss (just to name a few) all either struggled in school or started their business careers with big failures. They could have taken their setbacks as limitations thrust upon them, but instead, they refused to see it as such.

You can too.

Remember, no one travels the journey alone.

No leader, entrepreneur, or human being has to overcome limitations alone. For Kalin, it was his parents along for the journey, especially his mom, Sonja Bennett. Kalin told Kent State he wasn't coming if his mom couldn't be close by. As Kalin said, "Even when I have the best day of my life, I still want to make sure I see my mom's face.''

As Kalin turned 18 years old, he was on the road with his high school prep team (he's at prep school to get him ready for the independence that comes with college). Without his mother for the first time as he turned another year older, he completely shut down.

The prep school coach sent word to Sonja to come immediately, no small task as Ms. Bennett was in the hospital battling complications from having only one functioning lung. But came she did, from 175 miles away, answering her son's plea that night of "Momma, I can't do this without you." She later followed by quitting her job and moving/finding new work to be close to Kalin at Kent State for support.

Kalin will also have the support of Kent State, which is nationally recognized for the services it provides for students with autism. Gina Campana, the university's assistant director of the Autism Initiative for Research, Education, and Outreach, said this of Kalin Bennett: "He's really a phenomenal human being. A light emanates from this young man. We're going to be lucky to get him at Kent State.''

So know that opportunities to get heartfelt help facing down limitations are limitless. Just remember to thank those who help you along the way. Frequently.

Potential limitations will always be there-just remember what you've already overcome.

How will Kalin handle in-game coaching and all the complicated interpersonal nuances of basketball? How will his teammates work with him and vice versa? How will he function living on his own (even though his mom is close by, she says she'll give Kalin space).

Something tells me Kalin will be just fine given how far he's already come.

Same goes for you, too.

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