MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A Minnesota wrestler is achieving life goals both on and off the mat.

It’s pretty remarkable, considering Ben Cousins has autism and weighed nearly 200 pounds in 5th grade.

But he got in shape, went out for wrestling, and qualified for the state tournament as a senior at Bloomington Kennedy, and his wrestling career didn’t end there.

Cousins is finding success at the next level, all while spreading an important message.

“I was diagnosed at 2 and a half, along with other things,” Cousins said. “The autism was full criteria.”

When Cousins was young, it was an opponent he couldn’t handle. He says his autism caused him to act out, struggle in school, and sensory issues made him afraid of physical contact.

He also had trouble controlling his weight, weighing in at 189 pounds at age 11.

“That’s when I got into the whole exercise and using my own money to buy an exercise bike,” Cousins said. “And doing it 10 minutes a night and having my mom watch me do 180 sit-ups a night.”

So he decided to go out for wrestling in high school, and it turns out he was good. He eventually accomplished a goal he set for himself: qualifying for the state tournament his senior year.

Cousins’s wrestling career didn’t end there — he was recently recruited to wrestle at Concordia in Moorhead.

“I got my butt kicked freshman year, especially in the practice room,” he said.

But like in high school, he set another goal, which was more like a dream. He wanted to qualify for the Division III National Tournament. Last month, the junior 157-pounder’s dream came true.

“It was a great, great experience. Just going to wrestle there and get a feel for what the tournament is like,” Cousins said.

Ben lost both matches, but he wants his accomplishments to encourage parents who have kids with autism to never give up.

“They will love themselves more and they will love everyone around them more, because they have the confidence in themselves and they will be very good at what they do,” said Ben.

Kim Cousins, Ben’s mom, says her son is not ashamed of his condition. Quite the opposite, in fact.

“Autism is not an embarrassment for Ben anymore. It’s something where he is proud to say he has autism,” she said.

Of course, now Ben has set a new goal: next year, his senior year, he wants to win the national title.

He’s studying to be a dietitian when he graduates, and of course, a wrestling coach.

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