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UC Student a Medalist at the 2013 Special Olympics World Winter Games


Alex Bender competed for Team USA before taking on her latest challenge: an educational experience on UC’s campus.

Date: 2/12/2014 10:00:00 AM
By: Dawn Fuller
Phone: (513) 556-1823
Photos By: Gary Bender

UC ingot   As the excitement builds for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, UC can brag about a number of Olympic champions, with Mary Wineberg being the most recent UC grad to win a gold medal.
bronze medal
Alex Bender at the 2013 Special Olympics World Winter Games.


UC is currently home to another world champion athlete. Alex Bender, of Carbondale, Colo., was awarded the silver and bronze medal in alpine skiing for Team USA at the 2013 Special Olympics World Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.

Alex, who has Down syndrome, is one of 15 students participating in the University of Cincinnati’s Transition and Access Program (TAP). The program, which began last year, is a non-degree, four-year program for students with mild to moderate intellectual disabilities that provides opportunities to engage in the college experience.

Alex, who has also won in state skiing competitions in Colorado, says she has been skiing since she was six years old. Her entire family – mom and dad, older sister and younger brother, are all avid skiers. Her trip to South Korea was Alex’s first time out of the country. She trained for the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Lake Placid, N.Y.

“I remember it was very cold,” she says, of competing in South Korea. “It was really different than Colorado.” She won the silver medal in the Super G competition and was awarded the bronze medal in the giant slalom.

When Alex was a high school sophomore, she got involved in a futures planning program for students with disabilities and that’s when she knew she wanted to go to college. “Her sister was planning to go to college and her brother also left for college this year,” says her mother, Margaret “Gary” Bender. “Alex wanted to go to college, too.” The family looked into a similar education program like TAP’s in New Jersey, where Alex was wait-listed last year. More research turned up UC’s new TAP program.

Alex entered the program last semester and moved into the TAP House in Stratford Village, which opened last fall. The house is a blended community of students representing UC’s general student population and students in TAP. “I do chores at the house, like cleaning my bathroom and my room,” she says.

TAP students can participate in college classes and internships as well as engage in social experiences with the general UC student population by attending campus events, studying in the UC Libraries and technology labs, working out at the Campus Recreation Center and joining student organizations.

Silver Medal awards
Silver Medal awards

“I’ve been to a football game and a volleyball game, and I take a swimming class at the Rec Center. I also like the food in Cincinnati better than at home,” says Alex, although she has not become a fan of Cincinnati chili. Ice cream is her favorite.

TAP meets post secondary higher education standards and is a partnership supported by the UC College of Education, Criminal Justice, and Human Services (CECH) and the Mayerson Foundation.

Alex’s mother paid tribute to her daughter by writing the book, The Ordinary Life of an Extraordinary Girl, sold by Amazon. She says Alex’s experience at UC has made her very independent. And for the first time in 22 years, Gary Bender is adjusting to an empty nest after both Alex and her brother left home for college last fall. “She’s just like all the other college kids. I hardly ever get a phone call from her!”

“I think she’s doing great at UC,” says Gary Bender.

“I love being a Bearcat,” says Alex.

UC’s Transition and Access Program