For a long time, Collin Lutz lived in his own, small world.
"The thing about autism," said his mother, Shannon, "is that they like it that way."
Young Collin would come home from school, go to his room, look at his books about dinosaurs, play some video games and be perfectly content.
But Shannon and her husband, Stephen, wanted more for the second of their four children. So when they heard about Special Olympics, they were all in.
"When you have a special-needs child, you take every opportunity that comes down the pike," Shannon Lutz said.
Collin Lutz, now 18, didn't immediately take to swimming, the sport that is taking him to the world stage as a member of Kentucky's delegation to the 2011 World Games in Athens, Greece, this month.
When he started, at 12, he didn't like the water. He didn't want to make his friends feel bad, so he didn't like to beat them.
The East Jessamine High School senior also is not especially competitive, said his mom. But little by little, he decided he liked winning medals — given out to the top three athletes — better than ribbons. And after that, he decided he liked gold medals better than silver.
He also didn't like having water kicked in his face, so his mom convinced him that the best way to avoid that was to come in first.
He has learned that lesson well. He earned two medals and a fourth-place ribbon at the 2010 Special Olympics USA National Games in Lincoln, Neb., including a gold medal in the 100-yard backstroke and a bronze in the 100-yard freestyle.
As he prepares to head to Greece, where the games begin in late June, Lutz is most excited that he finally has a long-coveted passport. A man of few words, he said he looks forward to meeting people from all over the world and that his passport picture is "awesome."
The Jessamine County community has rallied to help Lutz raise the $5,000 needed for the trip. Three teachers at Jessamine Career and Technology Center — Terry Goodlett, Linda Burrell and Rachel Craycraft — have been especially helpful in raising money. Shannon Lutz said donations also have come from the Knights of Columbus and several local banks.
Her son will soon be competing on a big stage. But the things Shannon Lutz is grateful for are small. Over the years, Special Olympics has made him more eager to venture out into the world, to make the effort to interact with people more. It used to be that his mom would have to draw him to her when he came home from school; she'd ask for a kiss and ask about his day.
Now, she said, he comes to her.
"He's just so animated," she said. "It just put a spark in him."