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Newberg grad selected for Special Olympics World Games

For someone like 20-year-old Jeremy Beckham, who as a toddler was diagnosed with Child Apraxia of Speech — a neurological speech disorder that makes it difficult to say sounds, syllables and words — to say he felt speechless about something and mean it as a positive thing, that is truly high praise.

But that’s exactly how the 2015 Newberg High School graduate, who suffered intense frustration and isolation during his first several years in school because his peers could not understand him, described how it feels to have been selected to compete at the upcoming World Winter Games March 14-25 in Austria.SPECIAL TO THE GRAPHIC - 20-year-old Jeremy Beckham goes through a practice run during a training camp in Killington, Vt.,  where Team USA spent several days training for the upcoming Special Olympics Winter World Games March 14-25 in Austria.

Beckham became eligible for that honor after earning three silver medals at the Special Olympic Washington Winter State Games in February.

“It’s amazing that I got those, but to top that by going to the World Games, I’m speechless,” Beckham said. “It’s crazy and amazing stuff.”

Having been given such a unique opportunity, there’s nothing Beckham wants more now than to share the experience with his mother, Debbie Smith, which is why a crowdsourcing page (www.gofundme.com/helpformotherswish) has been established to raise the $11,500 needed to send her to Austria, too.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing and I’ll be really happy if my family can make it,” Beckham said. “It’s expensive, but it will be an amazing thing for my family to support me there. I’m really hopeful my mom can make it mostly because she was there for me from day one and I’m really thankful for her.”

His older sister, Helena, has also set up a Facebook page (Support Group for Jeremy Beckham – Austria 2017) that features updates, photos, video and interviews with Beckham, as well as his family and friends. It’s not only a way for people to connect with and support him, but also a way for people to get a better sense of his vibrant personality and positive attitude.

“He’s got so many great qualities, especially the positivity aspect of it,” his best friend, Aryonna Elston, said in one of the posted videos. “He’s taught me to never stop going in life, even when it gets hard. He’s just been a really solid, good friend and I’m super thankful for him. He’s taught me to push myself and he’s taught me that there are no limits in life at all, that if you work hard enough for it you can get there.”

Beckham’s condition is caused by a problem with how his brain communicates with his tongue and other body parts needed for speech.

His transition into public school was made difficult not by the learning disabilities that were revealed, but also because he felt increasingly frustrated and isolated when his peers could not understand him.

“School was pretty rough,” Beckham said. “It’s still difficult for me from day one to now. Reading is still a part of my life but I do my best of everything, but people helped me in school. But school was really difficult for me.”

According to Debbie Smith, it wasn’t until a family of friends introduced Beckham to the Special Olympics in 2009 that he finally found his place in the world and developed a sense of self. SPECIAL TO THE GRAPHIC - 2015 Newberg High School graduate Jeremy Beckham has been selected to compete in snowboarding at the Special Olympics Winter World Games in March in Austria. A GoFundMe page has been established to help raise the $11,500 needed to send his mother, Debbie Smith, to the Games support him.

The friendships he built were so strong that after his family moved to Washington County in 2014, Beckham didn’t want to continue playing basketball because he didn’t want to compete against his former teammates.

“He’s probably the most loyal and compassionate friend I’ve ever had and have had the privilege of knowing,” Elston said. “He definitely bends over backwards for the people he loves and cares about.”

That decision pushed Beckham to give snowboarding a try, a move his mother describes as seemingly “divine intervention, a spiritual moment, that would alter his life forever,” on the GoFundMe page.

“Snowboarding is really fun,” Jeremy said. “It’s one of my favorite sports in Special Olympics now. I’m just thankful, really thankful I’m doing snowboarding.”

After Beckham graduated in 2015, he and his mother moved to Vancouver, Wash., to live with his stepfather, Doyal Smith, which is why he now competes in Washington.

Having only one year of snowboarding experience, Beckham excelled at the 2015 Special Olympics Washington Winter State Games and a month later learned that he had been selected as a participant for the World Games.

“It’s a big honor and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me to meet new people and drive to places I’ve never been,” Beckham said. “It’s amazing Special Olympics is offering that to me. I’m really thankful Special Olympics was there for me.”

The feeling was the same in Beckham’s family, but that was dampened a bit when it became clear in October how expensive it would be for them to make the trip. So far, over $4,500 has been raised, but the family needs to reach the goal by early January in order to secure travel arrangements for Debbie.

“The cost for all three of us to go is just ridiculous,” Doyal Smith said. “It would be $15,000 just for me and her. This is one of those trips that you plan a lifetime for. To get everything up and going as quick as we have to is just really hard.”

Beckham, though, has already gotten a taste of what the World Games will be like after being flown to Killington, Vt., for a training camp in mid-December. He was even interviewed by ESPN for a segment that will air during the World Games in March.

Beckham said he would be ecstatic just to get a ribbon or medal at the World Games, but really hopes it will give him the platform to help other people much in the same way Special Olympics has helped him.

“I just want to say don’t give up,” Beckham said. “You may fail a million times with stuff, just don’t give up. I didn’t give up on snowboarding or sports because I love them and look at me, I’m going to the World Games in Austria.”