This column appeared in The Herald-Sun in 2013:
Colleen Kilsheimer once thought her son Stephen, born with Down Syndrome, never would know how to spell his own last name or slide his arms into the sleeves of a coat to bundle himself up against the St. Louis winter.
But he surprised her.
He could spell his last name just fine.
And, at 4 years old, he spread his coat out on the floor before putting it on.
“I thought I would cry,” she said. “That was such a treat.”
Now 55 and living in Durham with his parents, Stephen Kilsheimer – a proud Eagle Scout – has added another accomplishment: winning a bronze medal at the Special Olympics national golf competition in Galloway, N.J.
On Thursday, Stephen proudly wore his medal as he sat in the living room of his family’s home in Valley Terrace Apartments and talked about his relatively recent fondness for golf.
“I just like to have fun with it,” he said, explaining that his father, Joe, had encouraged him to play about six years ago.
He’s been a Special Olympian since he was 11, Colleen said. He got his start in swimming, but now focuses on golf and cheerleading for the basketball team. He’s run a half marathon and once participated in a triathlon, his father Joe said, “and didn’t come in last.”
The Kilsheimers credit Deputy Paul Sherwin, public information officer for the Durham County Sheriff’s Office, for shepherding Stephen’s enthusiasm for golf. Sherwin has helped coach Stephen and about nine other golfers since April 2012. They partnered last weekend for the 2013 Special Olympics North America Golf Invitational Tournament after taking gold last year at the state games.
“It’s such a humbling experience,” Sherwin said. “I didn’t know what to expect when I first started. It’s one of those things that it’s easy to come back to and keep doing.”
Stephen celebrated his birthday during the tournament on Sunday with dinner among friends at a sports bar in the Tropicana Casino & Resort in Atlantic City.
“It’s great for him to have this,” Colleen said. “He has kept us involved. He’s a joiner. He’s the one making this happen. It’s him, not us. He just has that kind of enthusiasm.”
Sherwin said playing with Stephen also helps his own game.
“I might think what I just hit was a not so good shot, but he’ll say it was great, which makes me step back and say, ‘You know what? It was not so bad a shot,’” Sherwin said.
Next month, on Nov. 9 and 10, they return to the state games in High Point at the Oak Hollow Golf Course. They practice for two hours on Tuesdays at Hillandale Golf Course.
How do they like their chances for making another run at nationals next year?
“I hope we go,” Sherwin said.
“Yes,” Stephen added with a knowing smile and a nod.
“His middle name is ‘Go,’” Colleen noted.