From February 2-4, the 2020 Special Olympics New Jersey Winter Games took place in Vernon, NJ. Among the 300+ athletes was alpine skiier Jordan Cohn. His father, Richard, tells he and his family’s story below.
Written by Richard Cohn
“Jordan Cohn, the middle sibling of three brothers, raised in West Orange, NJ, was classified on the Autistic Spectrum at age 3. Growing up with his older brother Gavin, and younger brother Trey, Jordan was treated and given the same opportunities as his neurotypical brothers. His parents, Richard and Monica, always believed that Jordan is on the path that God has in store for him, and along with help of very special people that The Lord has brought into Jordan’s orbit, he will continue to excel in all his endeavors.
Jordan loves the water, rollerblading, and riding his scooter and bicycle. In 2009, his father taught him to ski at nearby Shawnee Mountain. Jordan picked it up very quickly, love the exhiliration of flying down a mountain, and the concentration it required to do it safely. At the age of 19, during the 2017-2018 school year, the Young Adult Program at Celebrate the Children school was having Jordan concentrate on life skills, which while a crucial component for independen living, was not play to Jordan’s strengths. Richard and Monica had an epiphany – if a neurotypical young man, preparing for his adult years, had great balance and athletic ability, he would pursue a career in athletics. Well, why shouldn’t Jordan have that opportunity too? He already had a genetic predisposition towards athleticism. His grandfather, Charles Mays, was a member of the ’68 USA Olympic Track Team and competed in the long jump during the Mexico City Summer Games. Jordan and parents discussed and agreed that they would pursue this path forward.
At the suggestion of Frank Corrado, the esteemed former principal of Roosevelt Middle School in West Orange and a strong Jordan supporter, Jordan and his parents attended the 2018 Special Olympics New Jersey (SONJ) Summer Games in Ewing, NJ. Jordan and his parents were hooked; and the SONJ tagline said it all, “Transforming lives through sports.” We could see Jordan participating in several disciplines: skiing, powerlifting, cycling, swimming, and equestrian. The added benefits of all the socialization inherent in training and competing would be icing on the cake. Before being able to actually compete, Jordan first needed training and coaching. Richard contacted Kristin Gogerty, the Director of Special Support Services in the West Orange School District, to meet with her, explain their vision, and modify Jordan’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for his final school year in the district. Ms. Gogerty and her team fully supported the plan, and for his final school year athletic training and conditioning played a primary role in his weekly activities.
In February of 2019, Jordan and his family observed the Special OIympics New Jersey Winter Games at Mountain Creek, and they knew they were on the right path. Jordan’s training had begun in July 2018 and has continued throughout 2019 to present. He has gained muscle mass, lost weight, and developed discipline. Yomi Karade, founder of “IFP with Yomi,” and Jordan’s personal trainer, has been, and continues to be, in her three weekly sessions with him, instrumental in his overall conditioning. Jordan was ready to compete! First up, the 2020 Winter Games on February 3rd & 4th at Mountain Creek. Jordan would compete in the Giant Slalom and Super G Alpine Events. When Jordan’s father looked for an Area 9 (Essex County) coach and training program to prepare for the Winter Games, he found there was none for the Alpine Events. So, Dad became coach, took the required tests and certifications from SONJ to become a coach, and registered Team Jordan for Area 9. While Jordan could ski, he had never gone down a race course complete with gates. SONJ, through Mountain Creek, had provided a complimentary training program on the five Saturday mornings prior to the competition, which Jordan participated in. Coach Dad thought this would be Jordan’s opportunity to practice and become familiar with skiing between the gates. Due to liability issues, Mountain Creek would not close off the public the trail to practice, nor would they erect gates. This caused Dad’s anxiety level to increase. “All is in Divine Order.” Jordan and Coach Dad pushed past this lack of gates and practiced with Mountain Creek Instructor Volunteer Ed May, along with his team, and almost a dozen other athletes practicing for the upcoming competition.
The Winter Games, Day 1 was upon us; Monday February 3rd. Jordan had to compete in time trials to determine his placement for his events. He first had to collect his credentials, race bib, lift ticket, and goodie bag. His race bib was number 68 and when his mother saw it, she gasped and exclaimed “you know what that number is, Rich, don’t you?” Richard realized as soon as Monica said it. It represented the ’68 Olympic Games that Monica’s father, Jordan’s grandfather, competed in. “Do you know what today is?” Monica asked. Richard had no clue. Monica continued, “it is my father’s birthday!” Wow, Jordan had a Coach in Heaven, Olympian and his Pop-Pop, Charles Mays, had made his presence known. We all knew the next two days were going to be very, very special.
The time trials would be Jordan’s first opportunity to experience skiing between the red and blue gates. He missed a few, but overall, he was grasping the concept. Coach Dad was anxious, for if Jordan missed a single gate during competition, it would not be a time penalty; it would be a DQ (disqualification), and no opportunity to medal. Coach Dad created a mantra for him to chant in his head to keep in mind and guide him through the alternating red, then blue gates….”red, blue, red, blue, red, blue.” Monday night was the Opening Ceremony, and it was glorious!
After the fireworks, which closed out the night, it was time to get a good night’s sleep as the Giant Slalom began at 9:15 a.m., and the Super G at 1 p.m. Although Coach Dad was anxious again about Jordan not missing any gates, Jordan was quite calm and looking forward to getting on the mountain that morning. The Giant Slalom consisted of 2 runs. The combined time of both runs determined the winner. This meant that there were 2 runs that Jordan had to clear every gate to have a chance to medal. Coach Dad and Jordan had a chance to ski a few practice runs. Jordan was going to the left of the first gate instead of skiing straight through them. It became apparent that when they set up the gates on Tuesday, it was no longer alternating red and blue gates…they were set up as blue first, then red, and our mantra from the day before was no longer applicable!!! Richard wondered if this was an oversight or part of the protocol. He rolled with it. Jordan picked up the new Tuesday mantra of “blue, then red, blue, then red, blue, then red.” It was time. Jordan was at the top of the mountain waiting for his turn to enter the gate. Before he could take up his position in the gate, he first had to wait patiently for the dozen athletes in front of him to sidestep down to the gate and start their run.
Jordan was very patient, until he got to the gate, when the warning signs and sounds began. He was ready to go. His skis pointed down the hill with the starter, standing in front of him, blocking his way as the athlete in front had to clear the course before Jordan could begin. When he is upset, Jordan starts saying “ay-yi-yi” and singing “Old Macdonald had a Farm.” The starter, trying to keep Jordan calm, started singing in, while Coach Dad was concerned that if Jordan did not start soon, the situation could escalate. Coach Mays was looking down, and God had the situation under control. The athlete in front had cleared the course and Jordan began his first run; blue, then red, blue, then red….he had four gates to go before the finish line, when he skied past the blue gate. If he continued down, it would have been a DQ. Coach Dad shouted from the side of the course, “Stop Jordan, go back, go through the blue gate!” Jordan stopped, then looked around, he was about 5 feet downhill of the missed blue gate. Coach Dad pointed to the missed blue gate and shouted “go up and go through it.” Jordan turned around and faced uphill. To avoid sliding downhill, he turned his skis outward at a 45-degree angle and began to “duck-walk” uphill. As he was doing it the volunteers at each gate, holding their yellow foul flags up, lowered their foul flags and began shouting words of encouragement to Jordan, “You can do it, keep going, you got this!” Jordan walked up, turned around, then skied through the blue gate and every other gate, finishing the course without missing any of them! Time for his second run…again, patient at the top, and this time he was a little calmer when he got to the gate. This run was flawless, and his combined time was good enough for a silver medal!
Time for lunch, and then the Super G. Jordan likes to ski fast and in the Super G, while on the same trail as the Giant Slalom, the gates are farther apart so there is an opportunity to pick up more speed before making the next turn for the next gate. The danger in the Super G is, if a gate is missed because of skiing at a high rate of speed, being able to stop, turn around, and climb back up to the missed gate is unlikely…the runs had to be flawless. In addition to less and farther spaced apart gates, the Super G consisted of two runs, but only the time of the second run counted. The first run was just practice. Jordan’s time for the first run, (the practice run), was 1:03.38; a respectable time, but unlikely to medal. He had to do everything right for the real deal–the second heat which counted. At the top of the mountain, while waiting for his turn, Jordan was clapping his gloves together and laughing, expressing “I got this!” The mantra was repeated one more time, and he was off. In between gates, he again started clapping, going faster and faster and faster. He flew over the finish line with a time of 52.97, a full 10 seconds better than his practice run! He was jubilant, as was his family. Whatever the result, he gave his best! It was time for the awards and presentation of the medals. The Silver Medal went to William Rainello with a time of 53.90, which meant that Jordan was the Gold Medalist edging out William by less than a second! (Results Below)
You could sense, see, and feel Jordan’s sense of accomplishment, as he softly pulled first his mother’s head to his, then, with his other hand, pulled his father’s head to his. Jordan Cohn, Giant Slalom Silver Medalist and Super G Gold Medalist, son of Richard and Monica Cohn, grandson of Charles Mays and first descendant to continue the legacy and compete in an Olympic competition. Winter Games 2020…Mountain Creek, NJ, U.S.A. Onward to future competitions!!!”