A 2015 Hilliard Darby High School graduate will be among 230 American athletes competing March 14 to 21 in the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Jabari Wilson, 22, will compete in track and field and was qualified for the games based on his performance in the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle, said John Wilson, his father.
"I think it will be a great experience," said Jabari Wilson, who will make his first overseas trip for the games.
The Wilson family lives in Columbus on the edge of Hilliard and within Hilliard City Schools boundaries.
Wilson's path to the World Summer Games began when he was a second-grader at Hilliard Crossing Elementary School. He was encouraged by Jen Rambin, who was an adaptive physical education teacher at the school and a coach for the Northwest Special Olympics, now known as Hilliard Special Olympics.
"I worked with him (at Crossing) and he wasn't using all his language skills, but he was cooperative (in physical education) and really began to blossom," Rambin said. "He loved playing sports."
Sports proved to be the outlet for which Wilson's family was searching.
"We are so very proud of Jabari," said his mother, Carmala Wilson. "(Playing sports) has helped him with autism and it became his social outlet. It has benefited him in so many ways."
When he was 8 years old, and at the behest of Rambin, Wilson joined Northwest Special Olympics and began participating in individual-skills basketball and softball and later track-and-field events, John Wilson said.
Throughout high school, he continued improving and developing his skills.
Wilson won two gold medals at the 2018 USA Games for the pentathlon, a five-event medley that includes the 100-meter run, 400-meter run, high jump, running long jump and shot put, and for the 400-meter relay.
While at Darby, he was a member of the track team and the football team.
"I think Special Olympics changed his life, as it has for other Special Olympics athletes, too," said Rambin, currently a physical education teacher at Horizon Elementary School and a tennis coach for Hilliard Special Olympics.
She said she also has coached Wilson in basketball.
Though she no longer coaches him, she said, she made sure to seek him out and say hello at various state competitions in the recent past.
Those state competitions include the Special Olympics Ohio Summer Games at Ohio State University and softball competitions in Oregon, a Toledo suburb.
"Jabari continues to represent Hilliard Special Olympics (in basketball, softball, track and flag football)," said Andrea Fogt, local coordinator for Hilliard Special Olympics since 2002. The name changed last year from Northwest Special Olympics.
Her husband, Mitch Fogt, coaches Wilson in track and basketball.
"Hilliard Special Olympics is about the games, of course, but it is as much about these athletes being part of a peer group," Andrea Fogt said.
On average, about 150 athletes participate in Hilliard Special Olympics, and they can begin at age 8, she said.
Athletes do not "age out," but the number fluctuates a little each year as some come and go, Fogt said. Most, but not all, live in the Hilliard school district, she said.
Wilson will travel with the other American athletes, including Garrett Ford of Pataskala, to Newark, New Jersey, and then to Abu Dhabi about a week before the start of the games, John Wilson said.
His parents and sister will travel later to watch him and the other athletes compete, his father said.
"I hope to come back with another gold medal," Wilson said.