Yesterday was our Buddy Walk here in North East Ohio. It was the 11th year for this event and this year was the biggest and best yet!
I had the privilege of serving on the planning committee this year with some absolutely amazing women and my fantastic husband. I was honored to take part in this event and the behind the scenes look into what goes into something this HUGE is crazy. I never imagined all the little details that go into planning a fundraiser that attracts over 4,000 people. Awesome!
I won't bore you with the details of the planning but I will say that there is nothing like a Buddy Walk to make you swell with pride, tear up and realize that there are SO MANY people who love our buddies!
Our team name is Double The Love- totally fitting. Last year was our first walk and Casey and Connor were only 8 months old. This year I thought I was prepared for the rush of emotions I would experience. I wasn't.
The walk took place at Progressive Field- home of the Cleveland Indians. This stadium is built with the capacity to seat 43,345 fans. We didn't have nearly that many people but it seemed like we filled the stadium. The walk takes participants around the outside of the ballpark and then down onto the warning track where we got to walk all the way around the field. When we first stepped onto the field my breath caught in my chest, my heart grew 3 sizes and tears stung my eyes. I looked around this massive field and saw a sea of yellow and green (the buddies wore green) shirts. It was amazing- awe inspiring- touching.
The only way I can explain the feeling is to say it was like being home. When you are home you are loved. When you are home you feel safe and protected. When you are surrounded by approximately 5,000 people all celebrating and sharing in the joy of the life you live with a child with DS you are truly home. Everywhere you looked people were smiling and beaming while looking at the amazing people in their lives blessed with an extra 21st. Such a great feeling.
Casey and Connor are special. They are my miracle men. Even in the DS community they stick out. Having a child with DS is not all the uncommon. 1 in every 733 live births results in a child with DS. However, having twins who have DS is a much rarer occurrence happening about 1 time in a MILLION births. Because of this fact we get a lot of attention at events like the Buddy Walk. I don't mind. If anyone knows how incredibly blessed Matthew and I are- it's another parent of a child with Down syndrome. I met several people yesterday who knew me only as Casey and Connor's mom or the twin mom. I'm fine with this- I've been identified as much worse in my lifetime. If my entire identity centers around my sons my life is perfect.
Even though C&C are special there are some buddies we met that left me inspired and hopeful. Todd Eisinger was the Honorary Chair of the Buddy Walk. He is such an inspiration to me. He owns his own business, Inspires2Aspire, and won 4 medals in a Special Olympics swimming event in China. He entered 4 events and WON 4 medals- 2 Gold, 1 silver and 1 Bronze. He is super cool, amazingly nice and totally built. I want to hire him as my personal trainer. Todd's parents have always encouraged Todd to work hard and try his best and as a result Todd has done more in his life that many people who don't have DS have done- myself included. When I think of this young man I smile and think that the future of my sons looks like a bright and promising one.
Another buddy who left me smiling was Alex Simon. Alex is a section leader in his high school marching band- percussion section. He is handsome, charming and very funny. I had a great time palling around with Alex during some pre-Buddy Walk events. Alex was all too happy to pose for pictures with me and he entertained the walkers with some smooth dance moves during a great performance with his percussion buddies. Alex participates in a basketball league for people with disabilities and he helps manage his high school varsity b-ball team. He also does a mean Dougie, which I should admit I never knew how to do until he taught me.
At the end of the day, all the kids and adults I met on Saturday have special talents, charms and personalities. They are all inspiring- as are their families. Sometimes I do find myself worrying over the future and I think I am being silly. A great and special woman I worked with on the committee told me that no worries we have are silly. She is right. As a parent of 2 kids with DS I face a lot of uncertainties. I do worry whether people will treat my sons with dignity and respect. After being at the Buddy Walk I know they will be ok. I say this because there are thousands- quite literally THOUSANDS- of people who are looking out for all the miracle men and women. And again, I am left feeling like I am home. Safe and cozy, surrounded by people who love me and my sons unconditionally. And THAT is the true beauty of the Buddy Walk and the entire DS community- wherever you are- you're home.