Like most Olympians, 17-year-old Matthew Sommerer of Hoffman Estates has spent near a lifetime preparing to compete at the highest levels.
In his case, that will be playing soccer for Team Illinois in the upcoming Special Olympics 2014 USA Games games in New Jersey.
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"I started to play when I was 8 years old," the Hoffman Estates High School junior says.
And to prove it, he was on the cover of Parents magazine with a soccer ball all the way back in 2006.
Though basketball is another passion, soccer is the sport in which his overall ability qualified him for the quadrennial games.
"He's 5-foot-8 and all legs and arms," his father, James, says. "He's not afraid to get into it. He's pretty good."
Indeed, the U.S. Special Olympics are a rare opportunity in the life of a young athlete in which qualification is based entirely on skill level rather than an age category.
Matthew has Mosaic Down syndrome. While most instances of Down syndrome are caused by the presence of an extra chromosome, in his case there's an extra piece on his 21st chromosome, his father said.
Matthew is not only a Special Olympics athlete, but also on the Honor Roll at Hoffman Estates High School.
He was the final torch carrier who lit the flame at the 2011 Special Olympics Illinois Summer Games.
Matthew said he's loved these final months of preparation for the Special Olympics with his Hoffman Estates classmates and their coach.
The other half of the team comes from downstate, and they've all practiced together a few times since the Team Illinois roster was named last fall.
Matthew believes the team as a whole has clicked well, and he expects everyone will do well in the games.