At first glance, Douglas Jeffery Gilder, may appear to be different than everyone else. DJ who was diagnosed with autism at age 2 ˝, does face challenges that most would find hard or impossible to overcome. But this exceptional athlete does not let those challenges stand in his way.
He is a force to be reckoned with and he recently proved that to thousands of spectators at the first ever National Special Olympic Games in Aimes, Iowa.
DJ Gilder, a track and field athlete, was not originally an accomplished long jumper but learned to long jump in only three short months. At the national games, DJ won the Gold in the long jump and the bronze in the 200 meter. He also came out fifth and beat his best time by one second in the 100 meter. Named by the press in Aimes as the “Talker of Team Louisiana" and the "Walking Encyclopedia", this incredibly bright young man holds no secrets when it comes to his take on life with Autism.
"I believe that persons with disabilities should learn to become independent and trust themselves," said DJ "Ray Charles inspired me to be independent and not be a cripple," he continued. As written in an essay, DJ said that people used to treat him like a loser because he was different. But he says, "I have faith that Jesus will help me have better life." But don't automatically think that DJ is not smart or intellectual. This young athlete has an enormous vocabulary and an intellect that would test even the most educated scholars.
"I was impressed with the nationals," said DJ's mother, Charlette. "It was a chance of a lifetime for DJ Not only was it an experience for DJ but it was an awesome experience for us," continued DJ's mom. "We were welcomed with open arms in Iowa," said DJ "We were sponsored by many of the states because Louisiana didn't have the money after Hurricane Katrina," DJ added.
When speaking about the future, DJ says "I want to be an actor." This ambition makes a lot of sense because DJ is one dramatic young man. As a student at J.B. Martin, DJ participated in journalism, drama and band. He says "I want to be a renaissance man."
DJ’s father, Rob, will be relocating the Gilder family to Minnesota in August to help battle Charlette's disability, Multiple Sclerosis. "The heat was just too unbearable for me here, so we are taking the family to a cooler climate," said Mrs. Gilder. DJ said he looks forward to getting involved in sports in Minnesota. He says he will continue to be involved in the Special Olympics and continue his role as Global Messenger for the games. He plans to encourage kids with disabilities to participate in the Special Olympics.
|D.J. Gilder excepts the gold medal for long jump at the first ever National Special Olympics in Aimes, Iowa.|