This post is the second of a two-part series. Part 1, The Battle We’re Losing was published on Thursday.
Two weeks ago, I got to see a glimpse into Nathan’s future. As we were arriving at swim practice one morning, I spotted a young girl leaving that I’d never seen before. I wanted to speak to her, but she was looking down, making it impossible to catch her eye. Without thinking, I thrust my hand out, actually grabbing hers without waiting to be acknowledged.
My name is Andi. What’s yours?
This young swimmer (I’ll call her B) has Down syndrome. Her parents were with her and looked at me skeptically for a moment, prompting my friend Dawn, who was with me, to quickly spin Nathan’s stroller around in their direction – a sign that she hoped would communicate that I am a member of The T21 Club, not a psycho kid-grabber.
B is sixteen years old and began swimming with the team recently. She told us that she planned to swim at the meet that evening, and we promised to cheer for her. We exchanged information, and I walked away with Nathan, excited to have met another local family blessed with an extra chromosome.
At the meet that night, we checked the heat sheet for B’s name and found that she would be swimming in event 45; Sarah Kate would be finished after 37. Initially, we thought we’d miss B’s event, but ultimately we decided to stay and cheer, as it was her first ever meet, and the crowd was likely to be pretty thin by then. Shortly before B was scheduled to swim, Dawn turned to me with excitement in her voice.
Lane one! There’s a boy with Down syndrome swimming in lane one!
We asked a lady standing nearby who appeared to be a relative what his name was (I’ll call him S), and we cheered like crazy until he touched the wall at the finish. B swam shortly after S, and we cheered just as
obnoxiously enthusiastically for her as we had for S and for our own kids (Dawn and I are not ashamed to yell very loudly, particularly for the kids who aren’t very fast). With Nathan in his arms, Mr. Andi made a beeline over to the two families, who had already found each other. We learned that S is thirteen, has been swimming for many years, and played baseball until recently.
After the meet, when we were at home, Mr. Andi and I talked about the evening and how proud we are to be affiliated with an organization that not only encourages excellence (2010 league champs!), but also welcomes athletes with challenges (in addition to Sarah Kate, B, and S, there is also a young boy on the team who is deaf). We also talked about how both B and S seem to be thriving, and how they enabled us to envision a future filled with baseball and swimming, jokes and laughter, and (best of all!) inclusion. The unspoken message between Mr. Andi and I was what a huge difference it must have made in the lives of these two young people for them to be mainstreamed with their peers, rather than put away as many children with Down syndrome were not so long ago.
Isolation is no longer acceptable.
Meeting B and S and their families encouraged and energized me. I saw a bright future for Nathan and others with Down syndrome. So often I feel like I’m fighting losing battles – for respect, for inclusion, and yes, for lives. B and S painted a picture for me of what Nathan’s future can be, and I liked what I saw.