The smile. That broad beaming smile is the first thing you notice about Alexander “Jett” Chilton.
As his weightlifting coach will tell you, “Jett’s very active. He’s always upbeat. He gives everybody a smile when he walks in the door.”
Jett, an 18-year-old sophomore at Terry Sanford High School, will represent North Carolina in the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games scheduled for June in Florida.
He will be competing with other 18- and 19- year-olds for weightlifting honors in squats, deadlift and bench press.
“I enjoy it very much,” he said Wednesday morning from the Terry Sanford weight room. “I’ve been doing it since I was 13 years old.”
His parents, Nancy and Shea Chilton of Fayetteville, think it was the day of the 2017 N.C. Special Olympics Summer Games that lit the fire in Jett, prodding him to pursue the strength exercise of weightlifting.
That was his introduction to the spirited competition of the Special Olympics Games.
The athletes are pursuing medals and the accolades that they bring by vying for personal goals.
“He did well. He excelled,” Nancy Chilton recalled. “And he wanted to keep doing it.”
Jett also earned a spot on the Terry Sanford football team, gaining playing time on the defensive line.
His father, Shea, said there was a history of athletes in the Chilton family playing sports. He said his son likes to swim, but he had never before shown any interest in other sports that the Special Olympics offers.
“He was always a big kid. We thought he might enjoy it,” he said of his son’s love of weightlifting. “It’s really motivated him to get out of the house and be physical. It’s great for him to have another outlet.”
Jordan Vann is the head strength and conditioning coach at Terry Sanford. He also is offensive coordinator for the Bulldogs football team.
Vann said Jett is capable of bench pressing a maximum of 180 pounds, deadlifting a maximum of 275 pounds and performing a maximum squat of 185.
His trainers will be pushing him to exceed those numbers, if possible, to give Jett a better chance of bringing home gold.
"He has to learn body control movements. It's not as easy for him because he has to have core stability," Vann said. "For his ability and for what he can do, he's very functional. I think he is very good. I know his trainer wants him to be at 315 in the deadlift in June for the competition. His trainer seems to think if we can get him there, he has a chance of doing well once he gets down there. Mainly for him, it's form work."
Terry Sanford Principal Tom Hatch said, “It’s awesome when any kid moves beyond local competition, school-level competition, county competition. And they are at the state level or nationals beyond. Just makes us proud to support these kids and just watch them have fun with these competitions.”
Nancy Chilton said her son has been training hard for the upcoming games.
“He’s working out,’’ she said. “We got the call last summer. And we were shocked. We didn’t even know about the USA games going on.”
Jett qualified for the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games in 2019 when he won the gold medals for deadlift and bench press at the state games. The Special Olympics USA Games have not been held since 2019 because of COVID, so his qualification carried over to 2022.
“So he immediately started training. He trains here, and he trains three days a week with a trainer at a gym,” Nancy Chilton said.
“He’s just so excited for this opportunity,” his mother added. “This is such a big opportunity, and I don’t think he realizes just how big this is.”
She’s grateful for this chance – for her son to meet other people, to make new friends and to be going for the gold for the state of North Carolina.
“And to represent Cumberland County,” Nancy Chilton said. “He’s the only athlete coming out of Cumberland County to represent the North Carolina games.”
Obviously, extremely proud of her youngest son – the Chiltons have an older son, Luke, who is 22 – Nancy Chilton said it’s just unbelievable what Jett has accomplished.
“He is not a quitter. He never complains. He’s a hard worker,” she said. “He loves all his teammates and classmates. And he’s just happy to be here.”
About two years ago, Hatch said, he met with Jett’s parents, and they told him about their son’s weightlifting competition. He asked if Jett was taking weightlifting classes.
“I said, ‘Let’s get him in weightlifting here,’’’ Hatch said.
He spoke with Coach Vann at the school. And because Jett was a big guy, Hatch said, he thought he may be able to play football.
“Coaches put a plan together. We got him into football. Made the team, and he’s just built a whole different bond with kids on the team, kids in the weight room.
“He just loves being Jett,” Hatch said. “He loves being around people.”
Michael Futch covers Fayetteville and education for CityView TODAY. He can be reached at email@example.com. Have a news tip? Email news@CityViewTODAY.com.