When the odds are stacked against you
Dozens of sparkling medals and trophies line the home of Jesse Horn, 21, of Buffalo City, which reflect his accomplishments as a World Champion Sport Stacker. But for Jesse, no achievement outshines how he overcame his disability or as he calls it his “abilities.”
In honor of Autism Awareness Month, Meadowview Middle School hosted Jesse last week to give a presentation sharing his unique story and his journey into competitive Sport Stacking.
Jesse was diagnosed with autism at just three-years old after his mother and aunt took him to see a specialist when they started to notice he was not progressing as well as other children his age.
“I was literally leaving them and living in my own little world,” Jesse explained, adding he was incapable of making eye contact, he wouldn’t talk and he had meltdowns and tantrums that were painful for both him and his family.
“My family got behind me,” he said. “They wanted to do all they could to give me a chance to be able to function in this world.”
The Wisconsin Autism Project put together a plan for Jesse that included 32 hours of in-home applied behavior analysis therapy but his progress was still slow and he recalls his disability was daunting for all of them.
“My family feared I would never be able to do anything outside of the bubble they had put in place to protect me and themselves,” Jesse added.
Paul and Lola Longyhore, Jesse’s aunt and uncle, have played a huge role in his life. He would spend most weekends with them and he said his uncle Paul became his best friend.
According to Jesse, he did well in school. His heightened focus and desire to do his best and follow rules gave him “an edge.” But like a lot of kids with autism, he was never invited to birthday parties or to hang out.
When he was 9-years-old, Jesse saw a commercial on television advertising a stack of 12 cups. He begged his aunt for a set and she reluctantly bought them for him, thinking it would be discarded within days.
“It changed everything. I started practicing and I got faster and faster every single day,” Jesse said. “These cups opened up my world. Sport Stacking changed my life.”
Sport Stacking is an individual and a team sport where competitors stack 12 specially designed cups called Speed Stacks as fast as they can. In competition, the individual who stacks the fastest wins.
Before Sport Stacking was an official sport, it got its start in southern California in the 1980s. Today, there are over 50,000 schools across the world that have a Sport Stacking program as part of the physical education curriculum.
Local, national and world competitions are held worldwide. Jesse has been Sport Stacking for over 10 years and all of the practice led him to be a part of Team U.S.A. competing in Montreal and the Bahamas where he won overall top honors in his age division, making him one of the fastest Sport Stackers in the entire world.
Jesse has made friends from all around the world including Australia, Germany, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Netherlands and many other places as well. He also shared his story at the 2014 National Autism Conference in St. Pete Beach, Florida where he met Temple Grandin, an American professor and autism spokesperson who was one of the first individuals to publicly share her personal experience of autism.
Jesse also spoke at the 2015 Wisconsin Autism Conference in the Wisconsin Dells.
He also attended the 2018 World Sport Stacking Championships in Orlando, Florida a few weeks ago. His final time put him in the top three overall fastest sport stackers in his division and put him the top 25 overall fastest sport stackers out of over 400 competitors in the entire world.
“Sport Stacking isn’t just about speed. It increase hand eye coordination, ambidexterity, reaction time and reduces stress,” Jesse explained.
In 2015, Jesse’s mother passed away unexpectedly. He said the world of sport stacking helped carry him through her passing and taught him “the 3Ps,” of patience, practice and perseverance.
Jesse now attends Minnesota State College Southeast in Winona, MN where he has become a member of Phi Theta Kappa.
“Even though my cups have not always been stacked in my favor, perseverance along with a set of cups put me here, striving to make a difference to others in the spectrum,” Jesse said. “I truly believe this sport has changed my life and I want to give back and share my story and the world of sport stacking to people with autism and people with different abilities. If these cups could burst that bubble for even one child I can always go to sleep knowing I made a difference.”