Last weekend, we participated in our very first Buddy Walk! I had heard about walks in other parts of the country, but I honestly didn’t know that there was an event close to our hometown.
In our little community, Down syndrome is a lonely club. There are very, very few children with Down syndrome.
However, as our family was watching the annual “Frontier Days” parade this summer, I saw a beautiful, sweet smiling face waving to the crowd from a fire truck. The sign read, “Molly K.: Fire Chief For A Day.” I just about jumped out of my skin, elbowing my husband a little harder than I meant to in my excitement – “Look! A little girl with Down syndrome … IN WALLA WALLA!”
When we received an email from our local special-needs support group from a Mrs. K., asking if there was anyone who would want to form a team for the region’s Buddy Walk, we jumped at the opportunity. However, I think I was more excited about meeting their family than I was about the Walk!
We met up on our way out of town, made introductions, then drove the hour to the Tri-Cities. I don’t know what I was expecting … but I know I wasn’t expecting much of a turn out. After all, we’re such a small region. I was shocked to see the crowds of people gathered for the event … the news later reported 1600 participants. (More than the events in Seattle or Spokane!)
Chris Burke (the actor from “A Life Goes On,”) came to perform and provide entertainment. Music, dancing, celebrating … I think everyone felt like a celebrity. I kept thinking about what a fun group we were, and how lucky we were to be a part of this incredible celebration of life. Five years ago, we had NO idea what we were in for … or how very blessed we were!
What an amazing day. 1600 people gathered to celebrate individuals with Down syndrome. And, celebrate they did! It was so great to see all of the families gathered together – so many kids, of all sizes and abilities – all having fun together. The cheerleaders and football players from a local high school were positioned along the walk route, cheering on each participant. At the finish line, the students were gathered to form a tunnel of cheering, encouraging, excitement that made each walker feel like a super-star. As my boys “high-fived” them all, everyone was all-smiles.
Watching the kids play together was so heartwarming. Kids with Down syndrome were playing amongst their siblings and friends – there was no line of separation, there was no attitude of “them” and “us.” In fact, the children seemed to be able to see past their chromosomal differences completely, not even noticing that there was anything unique about this particular gathering of families. Siblings of kids with Down syndrome are a pretty special bunch, and I found myself wishing the rest of the world could see through their eyes.
Even as my kids look through our pictures from the day, they say things like “That’s our new friend, Molly! When can we see her again?” I hear no mention of Molly and Matthew being alike, or Molly being different than other friends we have … just a sweet girl they can’t wait to see again.
As we were in line for lunch, I noted that the gentleman in front of us appeared to be by himself. He was polite, friendly, and looked like he was having a great time meeting people and chatting. As I asked him if he was having a good day, and if he liked hot-dogs, he replied “Oh yes!” Then, for the first time, a look of slight shyness crossed his face and he quietly said, “… and I really like hugs, too.” I think I will remember that warm hug for a long time. The a welcoming and accepting environment of the Buddy Walk allowed this darling man to just be himself – to strike up conversations with people he didn’t know, and he knew it was a safe place to ask for hugs.
As we got our lunch, we retreated to a quieter area of the park with the K. family, and let the kids play by the river as we visited. We so enjoyed our time with them. They are a truly delightful family with three of the sweetest girls! I came home happy, with a refreshed spirit. Sometimes it’s really nice to talk to other parents that are “in the club,” and share stories and experiences. Meeting the K. family was an answer to prayer.
Here are the Walla Walla Walkers: Who wants to join our team for next year?