Earlier this month, Kalin Bennett became the first person with autism to get an NCAA scholarship at the Division I level. For Kalin, this isn't just about his disability, it's about following your dreams no matter what anyone else tells says you can and cannot do. Next year, Kalin will play centre for Kent State's men's basketball team, but it's his journey to get to this place that has everyone in awe of his determination. In an Instagram post following his signing announcement, he said that he was nonverbal until age 7, and had a "very hard time understanding [and] comprehending people." Kalin was constantly bullied, and it wasn't until he discovered his love for basketball that he was focussed on overcoming the barriers he faced.
"They [said] I wouldn't be anything. They said I wouldn't be able to have a life, they said I wouldn't be able to live out the best [life] a regular person can dream, but every single day I keep on proving them wrong and rightfully so for my dream is coming true," he wrote.
When answering questions from his Instagram followers, Kalin said the mentality that helped him overcome "labels" and succeed throughout his journey is: "Don't let anyone tell you what you can't do. Fight even when it looks like it's not in your favour." While some people with autism have sensory processing issues and an inability to stand certain noises, Kalin admitted "that's why I can't play football." We rarely hear athletes speak so openly about their challenges, but Kalin's not just doing it for himself, he's doing it for anyone in need of inspiration.
"I want to be a professional basketball player, that's every basketball player's dream," he said in a video with cleaveland.com. "But at the same time, I want to use this platform to inspire other kids with autism and non-autism and let them know, 'Hey if I can do this, you can do it too.' A lot of time they feel alone or by themselves and I felt that same way growing up."
Kalin expresses how grateful he is for his family and the people who believed in him, but based on the praise-filled reactions across the internet, it's clear that the person to be grateful for is Kalin. By simply following his dreams, he's helping to dispel the stereotypes surrounding autism, and for that, we thank him. Ahead, find videos of Kalin reflecting on his NCAA impact and more photos of the future Division I athlete.