It is hard not to be inspired by Kalin Bennett. He is a big man, standing 6-foot-10 and weighing 300 pounds, but he's an even bigger hero.
Kalin was diagnosed with autism as a child, and in his earlier years it was believed he would be non-verbal throughout his life. His early prognosis was severe. He didn't take his first steps until he was four, and he was eight before he had his first real conversation.
Slowly but surely, Kalin kept forging his own path, all the way to Division 1 college basketball.
Kent State won the Kalin Lottery when he chose them to play for. He says he picked them mostly because of their commitment to autism awareness. The school has several autism initiatives aiming at making the lives of those with autism, and their families, better.
The support of family is something Kalin thankfully knows well. His mother Sonja has been there with him every step of the way, offering encouragement, wisdom and love.
Sonja, Kalin, and the rest of the family (father Gerald, sisters Jessica and Karenda) thought it would be best to take a Link year. A year between high school and college that would train Kalin to be more independent.
"Kalin still has anxieties. The link year was for me to see how he would do without me being there all the time," Sonja told Cleavland.com. "It didn't work."
Around his birthday, Kalin began to shutdown without his family around him. His coach at the time phoned Sonja and asked her to come to the school. She was in the hospital, dealing with the complications that arise when you only have one lung, but she checked herself out and drove nearly 200 miles to be with her son.
"He lay on top of me and said 'Momma, I can't do this without you.'"
Sonja made the decision to drop everything to let her son pursue his dreams. She found work in Branson Missouri and moved to be close to Kalin.
She is just as important to the big man as well. When Kent State phoned him and offered him a spot on the roster he made sure his priorities were in order.
"Unless my mom comes I ain't comin," Kalin told the recruiter. In speaking to the news he went even further.
"Even when I have the best day of my life, I still want to make sure I see my mom's face."
To the best of anyone's knowledge, Kalin is the first Division 1 basketball player with autism, and he has the skills to keep pushing boundaries.
We hope he has many more great days, and that he keeps sharing them with his wonderful mother.