Matt Jacoby is a Special Olympian With a Drive for Competition

October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month. We’re featuring a Special Olympian named Matt Jacoby, who is a shining example of just how important it is to lead an active lifestyle.

Matt JacobyMatt Jacoby is a superstar for the Northern Illinois Special Recreation Association. The 31-year-old has collected nearly 150 medals and ribbons from various powerlifting competitions and Special Olympic sporting events.

Matt was born in July 1988 with Down Syndrome. When he was nine he decided he wanted to become an athlete, so he joined the Junior Lakers basketball team for NISRA and his dad became his coach. Along with basketball, he began to compete in a variety of sports including track, softball, bowling, golf, and bocce ball.

At age 11, while competing in the 100-meter track event and softball throw, at the NISRA Regional Track Meet at North Central College, he was unexpectedly entered to compete in the long jump tournament for his second event.

“We didn’t really expect much,” his mom, Pat Jacoby explained. “Matt was not a jumper, but [he] somehow surprised us all and won a gold medal. We had never seen him fly so far.”

Athletics came naturally to Jacoby, and his involvement in sports helped build confidence in himself, and gave him the courage to try new things.

When he turned 22, Jacoby wanted to challenge himself and compete individually. This led him into competitive powerlifting.

In 2010, he began competing annually in the bench press, squat, and dead lift. At a regional competition at Palatine (Ill.) High School he won gold medals in the lifts and was sent to compete in the Special Olympic Summer Games at Illinois State University.

His personal bests in each are 210 pounds in squats, 155 pounds in the bench press, and a dead lift of  240 lbs.

“(I enjoyed) winning, (improving) my personal best, (and the) encouragement from the spectators,” Jacoby said. “(I enjoyed) the exercise, being with my teammates, and having my family come to watch.”

Jacoby powerlifted competitively for eight years, but when he was 30 he was diagnosed with a hernia that required surgery and ultimately ended his powerlifting days.

“He understood this was something he had to do for his health, so it didn’t bother him much,” his mom explained. “I was more disappointed because I really enjoyed watching the competitions.”

With his competitive powerlifting days behind him, Jacoby is focusing on playing basketball – his favorite sport – and in bocce ball tournaments. During his first bocce tournament, Jacoby took first, proving once again what a competitor he is.

Jacoby continues to try new sports through NISRA, while being an inspiration to friends, family, and teammates.

“I encourage my teammates to try their hardest.” Jacoby exclaimed. “(Sports have) allowed me to make new friends. It is a good way to get exercise while still having fun.”