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Local

Top Bulldog

Prophetstown native excels in multiple sports in Special Olympics

PROPHETSTOWN – Three-sport athlete. Prom king. Enough gold medals to clang and clink against each other.

Life is great for Rhen Huizenga.

The 22-year-old Prophetstown native keeps busy with a schedule filled with sports, studies and family. 

Rhen is a life skills student at the Bi-County Special Education Cooperative. Outside of the class setting, he is one of the top athletes for the Bi-County Bulldogs Special Olympics team. 

Whether its basketball, bowling or track, Huizenga has collected plenty of accolades from each of those sports.

One is his favorite.

“I like basketball,” Rhen said, “because I’m a good basketball player.”

Rhen has autism, and has had seizures since he was young. On the autism spectrum, he falls within the area of having a pervasive developmental disorder, said his mom, Dawn.

He isn’t officially diagnosed with autism, though, because classification requirements deny the chance of diagnosis when there is an underlying seizure disorder present.

That absolutely does not stop Rhen from doing the things that he loves.

His father, Davey, installed a basketball hoop on the family driveway when Rhen was young. Throwing the ball at the backboard, and eventually into the hoop seemed fun at first. It didn’t take too long for his parents to realize that he was pretty good at throwing up a shot.

“We started him on the driveway shooting hoops,” Dawn said. “It got to the point where he started making baskets, and we thought, ‘We need to get this kid in a program.’”

Rhen was 9 at that time, and among the shortest kids on his team. More than 10 years later, he’s grown to 5-foot-8, 145 pounds, and sharpened his shot enough to accumulate a load of competition medals.

Dawn admits she still cries at each of her son’s competitions.

“I remember when he made his first basket,” she said. “At the competition, he went, ‘Woo-hoo!’”

Basketball competition involves individual skills, such as shooting, passing and dribbling. Rhen was one of four members of the Bi-County Bulldogs to win their division on Jan. 22 at the Region A Basketball Skills Competition in Dixon.

He took third place in his division last year for Twin City Schools – but that paled in comparison to being named king of Bi-County’s prom.

He’ll be there again for the April 12 prom.

“I got a prom date,” Rhen said. “I asked Tori.”

Perhaps his best thrill of competing involves doing so with his friend, Tori Humphrey. Less than a month after prom, the two will race each other on the track. The Region A Spring Games are May 4 at Harlem High School in Machesney Park, and Rhen will be running, throwing softballs and participating on relay teams.

In 2016, Rhen ran the anchor leg on the winning 400-meter relay team, which was in fourth place when he got the baton.

“Then he just smoked everybody,” Dawn said.

The Special Olympics bowling season begins this summer, but Rhen has been making a fast impression in his Saturday junior league at Blackhawk Lanes in Sterling. He recently received a trophy for getting a 200 game.

“Just have fun” is Rhen’s bowling philosophy. Dawn said that he averages between 375 and 400 in a three-game series.

“I do my best,” Rhen said.

Outside of fun and play, Rhen has a job doing certain chores at Resthave Home in Morrison.

“I fold the laundry, and I sweep the floor,” Rhen said. “And then I leave, and that’s it.”

He says its easy work, and he does so while under the guise of Spider-Man, wearing a Spider-Man smock while he works 1 hour every Tuesday and Thursday.

His parents used to call him “Spider-Rhen” when he was little.

“He’d jump up on the doorways and stand there,” Dawn said.

One day, Rhen hopes to have as much abilities to be a super hero in real life.

To many, today, he already is.

“He’s so super strong, and he can fly,” Rhen said. “Tall buildings!”

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