Eddie, 12, was adopted nine years ago from Ecuador. His adoptive mother had a brother with Down syndrome who passed at age 10, so D.S. is very close to this family. I got to know them through church and have only met about 6 of the 12 siblings, but can certainly say that they’re a tight-knit and loving bunch, and as such, a perfect fit for Eddie as an addition to the family. They love on him so well here.
We picked a day for me to come visit their homestead outside Greensboro. They live on a property in the middle of open fields, woods, and fresh air. Eddie’s first suggestion was to run with the dogs. Cars rarely come down this road, so it’s the perfect track for him to practice his sprints. He showed me the chicken coop and the goats and pigs, the chess set he practices with, and some of his soccer moves. Oh, and he absolutely destroyed me in a game of corn hole. I was warned that he beats most that dare compete against him, and it’s true.
Anne, 42, works part-time at Harris Teeter as a bagger. She’s been an employee there since 2000. Her duties include bagging groceries, assisting customers with carrying their groceries, and retrieving shopping carts from the parking lots. I spent about 15 minutes with her here, and she kept busy the entire time. Anne is very disciplined, and it shows in her work. When she finishes bagging at one checkout aisle, she scans the rows of aisles for a cashier that needs a bagger, and walks quickly over. Her job helps keep the checkout system running efficiently.
I actually met her for the first time a few days before this at the Wahoos’ swim practice. She’s a skilled swimmer with very nice form. She transitions each lap with a graceful flip turn, and glides through the water with ease. I ran into her again a few days later while photographing Mike at the boxing club. It was no surprise to see that Anne keeps active with more than one weekly exercise activity. This is a trend that I’m really glad to see: there are so many opportunities for individuals with special needs that they often have weeks packed with three or four different classes, lessons, or jobs.
Side note: I found out that Anne competed as an alpine skier at the World Special Olympics in Japan. You go, girl.
These photo sessions in particular were very sweet. When I went home for Thanksgiving break, I kept my camera out so I could grab these in-between moments. Evangeline is my 18 year-old little sister and the inspiration for this project. She had open-heart surgery soon after being born—which is very typical for individuals with Downs—but other than that, she’s had no health complications. She’s gone to public school and taken courses with both mainstream students and her special needs classroom peers. She’s now a high school junior in Wilmington taking biology and art, among other classes. In recent years, she’s played basketball, tennis, taken dance lessons, gymnastics lessons, and is an active member of her Theater for All troupe. There has been no shortage of opportunities for her in Wilmington, and we’re so grateful for that. Growing up with Evangeline as a sister has made life so much richer.
Mike’s story is yet another example of the wide range of opportunities available for adults with Down syndrome. He is 34 and lives with his family in Greensboro. He works as a greeter each weekday morning at one of the YMCAs in the area. On the weekends, he is a greeter at a popular Greek restaurant here. For a number of years, he’s been interested in power lifting, and now is a trainer with a weightlifting group for individuals with special needs. He has previously competed in the Special Olympics power lifting category. I asked him about his personal record—it’s 250 lbs. Way to go, Mike!
Mike has played everything from soccer and Y League baseball to Special Olympics golf and basketball. He’s also coached the Challenger baseball team. His other favorite pastime outside of weightlifting is performing. The Community Theater of Greensboro has a program called Onstage And Inclusive, which offers a 2-week summer program. There, he mentors other actors with disabilities. Mike has been in CTG’s main stage shows “Peter Pan” and “Oz.” He also has experience leading skits at the special needs division of Young Life, Capernaum. Mike loves singing, Elvis impersonations, making movies, and walking his dog Mickey in the neighborhood.
Zachary, far right, is 17, loves the outdoors, watching any kind of sport, and now rides his bike every weekend since attending an icanshine bike camp.
These photos are from his weekly swim practice with the Wahoos, Greensboro’s Special Olympics swim team. There were 7 other swimmers there with Down syndrome in addition to other swimmers with different forms of cognitive delays. The atmosphere on this side of the pool is so bright; these swimmers know that the main objective here is to have a good time while working hard. They meet at the Greensboro Aquatic Center each week, practicing all of the usual strokes taught to swimmers, both out of enjoyment and in preparation for regional and state championships. The swimmers cheer each other on and end each practice with high-fives and hugs.
Eyler is a sweet, happy 10 month-old. She has an older sister and another sibling on the way. She’s reached many of the typical milestones for babies her age, like supporting her neck and rolling onto her back. She also responds well to being interacted with and spoken to. She has a plush make up kit and books made of soft plastic. She’s similar to any other pink bow-wearing baby, except that her nails are painted pink, too. I went to Eyler’s home for an hour and a half and photographed what a quiet morning looks like for this sweet family.
Tyler, Lacey, and Nathan
One of my photoshoots was a little different—a few moms reached out and suggested they get together for a group shoot, as their children are good friends. These three brought out all of the hockey sticks and scooters they could find in Tyler’s garage and made the cul-de-sac their sports arena as the clouds rolled in. They swung in the hammock, jumped on the trampoline, and battled it out with the Nerf guns. We made an afternoon of it. These three know how to play!
Tyler is as fun-loving as any 10 year-old. His current favorite thing is watching Youtube videos of toy reviews. This was a genre I hadn’t heard of before, but it turns out it’s a vast one. These videos can be about anything from people testing out the new models of Nerf guns to different board games. He loves going to Greensboro’s skate park and the trampoline park, and has played Miracle League Baseball.
Nathan, 10, has also played with the Miracle League. He loves basketball and computer games. He also helps at home with the family’s new little brother. He has 12 year-old sister and a 7 year-old sister.
Lacey, from High Point, is 9. She’s one of four sisters in her family. A few of her favorite things include playing teacher as well as playing with her dolls. She used to cheer with a special needs team, and currently enjoys open gym Fridays.