Power Soccer Champ with SMA Excels on Multiple Fronts

Sports, academics and community service are all in a day’s work for Ben Carpenter, age 15

Article Highlights:
  • Carpenter, 15, who has spinal muscular atrophy, lives life in the fast lane.
  • He’s captain of one of the world’s best power soccer teams, the Tampa Thunder, and also runs his own charity and volunteers in the community.
  • Carpenter recently was up for Sports Illustrated’s Sports Kid of the Year award — all while completing an International Baccalaureate program at his high school.
by Bill Norman on October 30, 2010 - 4:49pm

Ben Carpenter, a young man with many talents.

Don’t be surprised if, in a few years, you hear about some fascinating new amusement park rides. And don’t be surprised if a young man named Ben Carpenter proves to be the genius behind the design of those rides.

Carpenter, 15, from Brandon, Fla., is a multitalented, multifaceted teen who seems destined to excel in all he pursues.

Just to name a few…

Consider these areas of endeavor:

Sports:  Carpenter has played power wheelchair soccer for the Tampa Thunder since he was 8 years old, and has been team captain for the last three years. Currently ranked among the top power soccer teams in the western hemisphere, the Thunder earlier this month took second place in the America’s Champions Cup power soccer tournament in British Columbia, Canada.

Straight-A student Carpenter is also captain of the Tampa Thunder, a world-class wheelchair soccer team.

Carpenter, who has spinal muscular atrophy, was voted the tournament’s Most Valuable Player by the coaches of teams the Thunder played. (Translated, he says, that means he gave their teams the most trouble on the court.)

Academics: Carpenter has been a straight-A student since kindergarten. He’s now a sophomore in the International Baccalaureate Program at King High School in Tampa. His secret to academic excellence? “Never, ever wait until the last minute to work on your studies. Get it done when you first get it. The next biggest thing is double-checking your work.”

He plans to attend college at either the University of Central Florida or Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a major in mechanical engineering.

“I’ve ridden every roller coaster I’ve ever encountered,” he says. “I love 'em.” And as a mechanical engineer, he’d love to make 'em bigger and better.

Giving back: Carpenter’s charity, Ben’s Mends, searches for used and abused books that he can repair and donate, primarily to women’s and children’s charities. Schools and organizations like the Girl Scouts collect damaged books for him, and last year he repaired, mostly by gluing, more than 1,000 of them. All told, in three years, he’s fixed up and donated more than 3,500 books. Now he’s forming a club at his school that will lend even more helping hands to Ben’s Mends. It almost goes without saying that he’s also a voracious reader.

Well recognized

In 2007, Carpenter received a Nestle’s Very Best in Youth Award (plus a trip to Los Angeles and $1,000 for his favorite charity) for being a young person “whose efforts are making a profound impact in lives other than their own.”

Carpenter was a national semi-finalist in Sports Illustrated's recent Sports Kid of the Year competition.

This October he was in the national spotlight again, as one of 10 semi-finalists vying to be named Sports Illustrated (magazine) Sports Kid of the Year. Nominees were chosen based on their academic record, community service and sports involvement, but the three finalists were picked by Internet vote.

Although Carpenter’s supporters felt he was a shoo-in for the award, unfortunately he didn’t garner enough mouse clicks to make the cut.

Carpenter took it in stride. “Yeah, it was a disappointment, but it was a good learning experience for me, and my whole intent was to promote power soccer. I wanted to tell others, ‘there’s something you can do in sports, even if you’re in a wheelchair,’” he says.

He has plenty of other things to keep him busy, anyway.

He’s a spokesman for Hillborough County Junior Achievement (and was named the group’s Student of the Year in 2007).  He volunteers in the community as a patient ambassador for Tampa Shriners Hospital’s medical assistance programs. And then there’s a week each year at MDA summer camp, which he loves dearly.

Carpenter’s lifestyle, in fact, sounds much like his description of playing power soccer:

“It’s fast. It’s tiring at the end of the day. It’s rewarding. It’s liberating.”

Your rating: None Average: 5 (4 votes)
MDA cannot respond to questions asked in the comments field. For help with questions, contact your local MDA office or clinic or email publications@mdausa.org. See comment policy