COPPER MOUNTAIN - Five years ago, Cody Field's sister taught him to snowboard.
In January, he went to the Special Olympics World Games in South Korea and came home with three gold medals.
"I was stunned," Cody said of the moment he learned of his third win. "I was in shock after. I was like, I got gold, I got gold, I got gold!"
Cody was one of more than 3,000 athletes from 110 countries who participated in the World Games, at the same facilities that Olympians will use in the 2018 Winter Games. He was one of only six from Colorado to compete with Team USA.
"To get one gold medal is a big deal," Special Olympics Colorado vice president Amy Turner said. "He won three gold medals. That's quite respectable."
It was a gold medal at last year's statewide competition that earned him the spot. On Sunday the 20-year-old world champion returned to Copper Mountain to compete in the Colorado Winter Games again, and added even more gold to his pocket.
He followed up his gold medals in the slalom, giant slalom and super G events in South Korea with another gold in the giant slalom in Sunday's statewide championships at Copper.
"I keep rallying them up," he said.
For Cody, who was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome at age 6, snowboarding is a niche that became a passion. Athletic, and from a family of four children who all played sports at a young age, he started out playing soccer. But a lack of acceptance from his peers and impatience from his coaches caused him to walk away from the sport. Years later, he would find his way to the mountain, first as a skier and the son of a Special Olympics ski coach. But the sport was popular and the number of competitors too big for a boy who had never liked crowds.
Then, when he was in high school, Cody's older sister taught him to snowboard. The sport was smaller and Cody found a place where he felt comfortable and excelled.
"I like snowboarding because it's a faster sport," he said. "I knew I'd do good at it and I was right about that."
But Cody's mom says he's won more than gold in his years competing in Special Olympics Colorado.
"What snowboarding does for Cody, is it gives him an opportunity to get out with kids that enjoy doing the same thing that he likes to do," Karen Field said. "It's that camaraderie and that teamwork that builds his self esteem."
The sport has required the young Olympian to master challenges both on and off the slopes. At the World Games, his first excursion out of the U.S., he faced tough competition and changes to his normal routines. He bunked with several of his teammates in cramped quarters and was not allowed to have soda, which at home he drinks on a regular basis to help regulate the side effects of his medicines.
Still, he said, the World Game competition was an unforgettable trip.
"The experience is like a lifetime experience for me," he said.
For his family, it was an opportunity to see how other cultures approach intellectual disabilities and to find opportunities for growth in the U.S. While in South Korea, Cody was partnered with a 10-year-old pen pal who goes by the American name John, who, with his family, drove four hours to watch Cody compete in the games. By the end of the visit John decided he wanted to grow up to be a snowboarder just like Cody.
"I'm somewhat disappointed that our country doesn't really (individuals with disabilities) the same way that other countries embrace them," Karen Field said. "They can be very important members of our society. We just need to learn to embrace them, and we need to learn to better understand them and not ostracize them and bully them and pick on them. That's what I came away with most from the World Games. That and an Olympian with three gold medals."