Missoula athlete role model for years of achievement in Special Olympics


MISSOULA, Mont. - It's a big weekend for Special Olympics in Montana. It's the Law Enforcement Torch Run Kickoff Conference. Law officers from all over the state will be in Missoula to plan for the Special Olympics Torch Run.

The Torch Run starts at the end of April, with torch bearers coming from all points of Montana's compass.

The final leg will end in Billings, for the start of the 2014 Special Olympic State Games in May.

NBC Montana profiled one of those Special Olympians, a remarkable athlete from Missoula. Hilary Benjamin is an agile and driven basketball star. We caught up with her at a basketball camp at the YMCA in Missoula. The game keeps her in shape for a season of sports that never ends.

Hilary participates in soccer, basketball, track and field, swimming and downhill skiing. And that's just a start of the sports she participates in.

At 36, Hilary has enough energy to power a small city.

Her mom can't count the medals she has won.

Hilary is the extrovert of the family.

"We haven't been able to keep up with her," said Jolinda Benjamin.

Hilary went to the World Winter Games in 2001. She works out constantly. It hasn't always been easy. Hilary remembers the painful times she was teased in school for her disability.

"I remember those were rocky years," said her mom.

But nobody's teasing Hilary anymore. She, and athletes from all over the country, are working to erase the "R" word, the antiquated word "retarded."

"The new word," said Hilary, "is respect."

Special Olmpics has given her confidence.

"It's given her exposure to other people, other cultures," said Jolinda.

Hilary's boyfriend, Coulter Stensgar-Maul, is a Special Olympian too.

"She's caring, loving and willing to help everyone," said Coulter.

Every day Hilary works at a daycare center, helping toddlers develop their muscles in play, so they may form habits of physical activity their entire lives.

"She wants to be the best," said Missoula Police Sgt. Mark Horner. "She's a very well spoken individual when it comes to promoting herself and Special Olympians."