Katie Hrenchir is the Northwest Associate Area Director and proud sister of SOMO athlete Tanner. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My special brother, Tanner, was born with Down syndrome 29 years ago. Back then, doctors did not know as much as they do now about Down syndrome. It was still a very foreign disability to most. When Tanner came into this world on March 4, 1982, my parents held their baby boy for the first time. Seeing him, they knew he was different, but they loved him all the same. They still had the same dreams for him and couldn’t wait to share this bundle of joy with their friends and family. That is when their dreams seemed unravel.
My parents have told me stories of what the doctors told them when Tanner was born. These stories hurt me to the core because of the negativity streaming from the doctors about my brother. As my parents were cradling Tanner, the doctors told them everything he would NOT be able to do in life. They told them he probably wouldn’t walk or talk. They told them “Don’t expect much out of him.” That line hurts the most. That line seems as if they were treating my older brother as a thing, not as a person. Then they stated that he would be better off in an institution. My wonderful parents, full of faith and expectations for Tanner, did not listen.
They were very scared, angry and sad at first. They had nowhere to turn. The doctors and hospital gave them no advice or any places to turn to for support. They knew they would have to do this on their own. They turned to family and friends, who immediately accepted Tanner (who in my opinion was one of the most adorable babies to grace this Earth). Tanner was such a loving, sweet and happy baby. He had everything to give and more.
When he was old enough, my parents found therapy and speech classes to enroll Tanner in. He started growing and succeeding! He was already surpassing all of the doctors’ expectations and hurtful words.
Then, at age 10, my parents enrolled Tanner into Special Olympics Missouri. Our lives have NEVER been the same. From Tanner’s first-ever bowling practice, to the 2010 National Games, to the present … the Hrenchir family will always call Special Olympics Missouri home.
Special Olympics Missouri has given my brother so much. This program has given him hope, happiness, joy, confidence, determination, and most importantly … acceptance. This program has shown Tanner that ANYTHING is possible. It has shown him that dreams really do come true. Through this program, Tanner has traveled, Tanner has competed, and Tanner has gained lifelong friends.
In school, it wasn’t always easy for Tanner or me growing up. Having a sibling with special needs can be very hard. It is something very hard to explain to others. When his peers would make fun of him, I always felt I needed to step in and stand up for him. Back then I didn’t always have the support I needed as his younger sister, and people with disabilities were still trying to be accepted in this society. I was always looking out for Tanner and felt as if I had to protect him all the time. There were some peers that were very fond of Tanner, but of course there will always be bullies in every school, and we had our fair share of those experiences.
The great thing about Special Olympics is that Tanner is always accepted by everyone. There is no bullying. When Tanner enters a gym for SOMO practice or a field for a SOMO flag football tournament he knows he is HOME. He knows everyone there is his friend, he knows they will all be on his side, he knows they will all include and accept him.
Unified Sports has also been great for Tanner. Being that his peers in school did not always accept him, having Unified Partners on the field with Tanner really makes a huge difference. Seeing that all youth are on his side now is incredible. It is a great feeling to know that Special Olympics Missouri is educating all youth that people with intellectual disabilities have the right to be accepted and included too. This is a program I would have loved to be involved with when we were younger. However, I am so happy it is in full swing now throughout the whole state of Missouri.
Special Olympics has not only helped Tanner, it has helped our whole family. Seeing Tanner in his daily struggles and witnessing people bully him was so hard to endure. Through Special Olympics, my family has found happiness and so much joy. We were given a program that Tanner could succeed in. We were given a program where we could watch Tanner grow and be happy. That is all we could ask for. Our family has met other families who have gone through the same struggles. It has been so nice to be able to network and communicate with other families who share our joy, pain, successes and struggles. Together, the families of Special Olympics Missouri have a bond that can’t be explained. We can relate to each other. We can see that this program has worked wonders in our loved ones’ lives and our lives as well.
I now work for Special Olympics Missouri. It is dream job that was meant for me. This job was just waiting for the right time to appear on my plate. I now get to plan and coordinate sporting events for my brother and the other 862 Special Olympics Missouri athletes in the northwest part of Missouri and couldn’t ask for a more satisfying job.
For anyone who donates their time and/or funds to our special program, please know that you are making a difference in so many lives. Not just the lives of our athletes, but their families and friends as well. Special Olympics has a snowball affect. If you help out once, you have touched many lives, which in turn touches more lives when you aren’t even looking. As a sibling of a Special Olympics Missouri athlete I can say that anyone who volunteers at our events and gives Tanner a high five or a “good job” touches my heart as well.
Special Olympics Missouri is a life-changing program, and the Hrenchir family is proof of that.