When Jeff Osowski learned he'd been chosen as a member of Illinois' golf team competing next week at the Special Olympics 2014 USA Games in New Jersey, he was more than a little surprised.
"I was shocked," the 32-year-old Downers Grove man says.
He probably shouldn't have been, because the folks who know him, from his parents to the staff members at SEASPAR, a special recreation association based in Downers Grove, all say Jeff is a talented golfer and an even better teammate.
Jeff says he's been walking the links for a long time, at least partially because his dad, Ray, is an avid golfer and an equally avid supporter of his son's interest in sports.
It was a combination of Jeff's skills on the course and his always positive attitude that won him a spot on Team Illinois, says Matt Corso, SEASPAR's superintendent of program development.
"Jeff has always, always, always shown fantastic sportsmanship," Corso says. "He's always optimistic and positive. He's a great team player."
He also knows how to hit the little white ball.
"Jeff is one of the better Special Olympics golfers in the state," Corso says. "He's very good at club selection. He's very consistent. And he always hits it straight."
Aaron Hirthe, who serves as a SEASPAR recreation specialist and coaches the golf team, agrees.
"He knows when to push himself and when to play cautiously," Hirthe says. "He genuinely wants to get better and progress."
Jeff says he's been playing golf as part of the program at SEASPAR for more than 10 years. He's also active in a variety of team sports, including his favorite, softball, where he's a pitcher.
He's not the kind of guy who likes to toot his own horn, but his parents, Ray and Sharon, say he's been talking a lot about his Special Olympics trip ever since making the team. He'll be on the links for three straight days as part of the tournament and then attend the awards ceremony on a fourth day.
"Jeff is so fortunate to be able to participate in the Special Olympics and experience the highs and lows" that come with competition, his dad says. "This is a fantastic experience and a privilege."
Jeff's mom echoes all that, but admits to a few butterflies when thinking about it all.
"I'm a little nervous," she says.
Corso and Hirthe say there's nothing to worry about. The staff at SEASPAR has every confidence Jeff will handle himself well both on and off the course.
They're already making plans to add plaques in the lobby (as they do for all their Special Olympians) to honor Jeff and Christina Schutz, a volleyball player from Darien, when they return from their Olympic experiences.
"It was an easy nomination for us," Hirthe says.
"We thought Jeff would be a perfect fit for the USA games," Corso says. "They couldn't have picked a better golfer."