GILBERT, Ariz. — Alexander Hayes doesn't like to lose.
So when the 24-year-old Special Olympics athlete heads to the summer games in Athens, Greece, June 24-July 4 this summer, he plans to win the gold.
Nothing else will do.
That isn't really surprising because most autistic children — and adults — have an usually tough time with not winning.
"They can't lose. That's just not right!" said his mother, Katy Hayes. "I work with autistic kids, and it's hard for them to lose. When Alex went to nationals four years ago in Iowa, he realized he had to pick it up if he wanted to always be the winner because in Arizona, he always won."
He's got a good shot because he's been working on his flip turns to shave seconds off his already impressive time.
He told the Deseret News recently he's halfway to his goal. "I'm usually at 2 minutes 16 seconds (for eight laps in the 200 meter freestyle)," he said. He also races in the 200 meter breaststroke and 100 meter individual medley relay.
He's also working on his endurance and pacing because he tends to go too fast on his first four laps, and that hurts him in the final laps.
"The first thing he does after a race is look at the wall clock," Katy Hayes said. "He wants to bring down his time. He's competing against himself."
Martin and Katy Hayes are amazed and proud of their oldest son's accomplishments, a son who has been diagnosed with a learning disability and high-functioning autism. He holds down a job, he drives himself about on a Vespa and he has earned his Eagle Scout award. He sang the national anthem at the opening ceremonies for the Track and Field Summer Games at Mesa Community College though he'd never sung in public before. He attends the Valencia YSA Ward, Queen Creek Arizona Chandler Heights Stake.
He has nearly 100 medals for his various events.
He excels at six different sports: aquatics, golf, flag football, basketball, track and floor hockey.
Chosen for his swimming ability, Hayes is one of five athletes selected from Arizona, one of 300 for Team USA.
"He's always been a really good swimmer," his mother said. "At 4, he took his floaties off and just swam away!"
In high school, he could swim faster than anyone, and the swim coach noticed.
"The thing is, when you have a child in this situation, you sit and worry about all the things he won't be able to do. This has kind of made it so we think, 'What else can he do?'" Katy Hayes said. "Special Olympics has just been an awesome thing for him."
Alex Hayes is excited about the opportunity to compete in Greece, but he doesn't know quite what to expect of the country. "I know there's lots of water and lots of sun. It's kinda hot there," he said. "It'll be great to get away from home and from work with new food, new places to go and new stuff to do."
He figures he'll get in a little sightseeing before and after the games. That makes it worth spending his days either swimming or working right now.
"Yup. It feels good (to be selected for the team)," he said. "It'll be a great vacation."
Hayes needs money to help pay the expenses of making the trip. He currently has $1,130 of the $5,000 he needs by June 1.
Anyone interested in helping him can visit the Special Olympics World Games website at http://specialolympicsazworldgames.kintera.org/faf/donorReg/donorPledge.asp?ievent=441901&supid=304010008.
He is the grandson of Anne Reeves, who lives in Salt Lake City.