On March 6, Special Olympics and Best Buddies representatives from all over the nation stormed Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., to spread the good news of their life-changing programs for those with intellectual disabilities. Working for SOMO, this of course means so much to me. Getting a chance to speak to congress about the needs of our athletes is a huge honor! However, it means much more to me than that, and here is why.
31 years ago, my parents had a baby boy with Down syndrome and they named him Tanner Lee Hrenchir. That long ago, Down syndrome was still very foreign to most. They were told everything he wouldn’t do by the doctors. They spoke of institutionalizing him and were even told to have no more children because they too would be (pardon my language) retarded. Their dreams were crushed. However, they did not give up and decided even if every day would be a fight or a struggle, they would survive because they loved their son.
They found therapy and speech classes at a young age for Tanner. Tanner started growing and exceeding all their expectations. Then at age 10, they entered him into the great world of Special Olympics! After this simple enrollment into a program that seemed to be something he might like, our lives have NEVER BEEN THE SAME!
We have had so many special opportunities through Special Olympics. Most importantly though, Tanner and my family have found a place to call home. We have found a place where Tanner and grow and succeed on “his level.” We found a place where Tanner can be Tanner! Through this program, we have gained lifelong friends who have experienced the same struggles, battles, joys, and life situations that we have. As a sister, this is more than I ever dreamed of when we entered Tanner into this program.
Speaking of opportunities, Tanner has had the opportunity to travel to places near and far to compete. Tanner has had the great honor of sharing his courageous story about his life and Special Olympics to thousands of people over the past few years. Tanner also experienced what it felt like to be a National Games athlete in 2010 as a member of Team Missouri’s Track and Field team. Again, opportunities we never thought existed 22 years ago when he participated in his first bowling practice.
Perhaps the most honorable and humbling opportunity to date was our Capitol Hill Day experience last week. Tanner, myself, and our parents, Jerry and Wanda, were all able to represent Special Olympics Missouri for this special day. The entire experience was filled with joy, nerves, shock, happiness, and most of all excitement. You could just feel the excitement in the air and buzz around town that we were there to make a statement!
Our main goal was to meet with representatives, senators, and other dignitaries to explain the benefits of our programs to people like Tanner with intellectual disabilities, to share our story, and to hopefully bring them on board to be co-sponsors of the EKS Act. The Eunice Kennedy Shriver Act has one main goal: to meet the persistent and critical needs of those with intellectual disabilities by providing funding for health, employment, and education.
We were able to share our story to the offices of Representative Blaine Luetkemeyer, Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler, Representative Bill Long, and Senator Roy Blunt. Tanner was able to give his speech in each office – which was a huge success – and share pictures of him competing in sports through Special Olympics. Again, watching my brother share his life story with these individuals will be a memory I will never forget. To know he got to share his story at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., really can’t be beat! We were also fortunate enough to meet Timothy Shriver during our meeting with Roy Blunt. That put the icing on the cake for the Hrenchir family! To meet the son of our greatest hero, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, and to be able to sit across the table and just have simple conversation with him was a complete joy. To meet the CEO of a program that will forever be home to our family was the greatest honor of all. Again, another experience we never expected!
We can only hope our stories touched the lives of those we got to speak to. We know that our lives have been changed by this amazing experience and we can never thank SOMO enough for asking us to represent them on this huge day. Another story for the books of Tanner Hrenchir … we hope for many more to come!
Katie Hrenchir is the Northwest Area Associate Director. She has worked for SOMO for five years. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.