A teenage football star from Wearside has overcome his disability to bring home gold after representing Great Britain.
Seventeen year-old Alex Sawyer-Copus from Philadelphia, Houghton le Spring, travelled to LA with the GB Special Olympic team last month to compete in a match of a lifetime.
The centre midfielder who suffers from autism and ADHD hopes the win against Bangladesh will help raise autism awareness and prove that having a disability doesn’t need to stop people following their dream.
He said: “I’m very proud to represent my country by competing at the World Summer Games. I’m grateful that someone recognised my ability in football and has given me a chance. “
Special Olympics is the world’s largest sports organisation for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, providing year-round training and competitions.
Alex, who plays for Beamish Dynamo’s, was picked along with four of his team mates - Michael McGurk; Brad Whitfield; and Andy Hetherington.
He said: “The Special Olympics has helped me raised my self-esteem and confidence.
Alex, whose disability affects concentration, technical ability and behaviour, secured a 7- 6 victory against Bangladesh.
Alex’s mother Tracey Sawyer-Copus said: “We went as a family to support him. It was the most amazing experience. He is the youngest on the team with ages ranging from 17 to around 30.
“I wanted him to have the same opportunities as anyone else.”
Alex’s younger brother Aaron, 12, also has autism and hopes his brother’s achievements will inspire others with disabilities to come forward and form a under 16 junior league for The Beamish Dynamo’s.
Alex who also won a gold medal in the Special Olympics National Summer Games 2009 for judo, won the Sunderland’s Wall of Fame in Sporting Achievement Award.
He said: “Getting through mainstream primary school was very difficult for me and it was not a happy time. I was easily frustrated by people not understanding me or my needs.
“Communication was extremely difficult and I was often misunderstood but in secondary school I had more support and this gave me confidence that I could achieve personally and academically.
“It made all the hard work worthwhile and I developed some wonderful friendships.”
In September Alex starts a Coaches Clinic Course at the Stadium of light and East Durham College, aiming for a sport development diploma and gain a teaching assistant certificate.