What does it mean to have your children walk onto the football field at your alma mater holding hands with football captains to join in the coin toss….an experience you are all but certain they will not be able to replicate? It means everything! It means the world! It nearly brings you to your knees it is so breathtakingly amazing!
When I first read that Blank Children’s Hospital was taking applications for the 2015 seasons ISU Kid Captians, I was excited. I admit. I thought it was a long shot. I knew that I couldn’t nominate just one of my sons with Down syndrome. I had to send in one application for both. I wasn’t sure if they had ever allowed two children to fill one spot, but I had to try. In July, I received an email that started out, “Thank you for taking the time to nominate your children, Carsten and Bo, for the Kid Captain program…..It was very difficult decision to select only 6 Kid Captains.” I nearly didn’t continue reading. I thought that was the beginning of a rejection letter. The next paragraph said, “We wanted to let you know that Carsten and Bo have been selected as Kid Captains!” I nearly dropped the phone I was so excited!!!
When I told Carsten and Bo, they were so excited to “get to play football!” Shortly there after we went for their photoshoot at the hospital. It went surprisingly well, and it was starting to feel real.
Finally November 14th arrived! The big day that we had been talking about for 4 months! We were so worried about how the weather would be. I had prayed countless times for good weather. Low and behold it was an absolutely perfect day! Friends hosted the sweetest tailgate for our whole family. Let me just add that invites for our WHOLE family do not come along often!
After the tailgate we headed into the stadium to watch the team warm up on the field, and meet with our host from ISU, Brendan. During this time Carsten started to get stage fright. I was saying prayers over and over and over for him to get the courage to walk out onto that field. At one point I looked at Brendan and asked, “Have you ever had a Kid Captain not walk out there?” He looked at me very confident in the situation and said, “No. They all do it.” No pressure….they all do it….Carsten…buddy…you can do this! Please!!!! Shortly after that Bo decided that Brendan should hold him. Here’s a picture that shows Carsten’s fear, and Bo being Bo.
I then handed Carsten off to MJ for a pep talk. He just kept saying, “I am so scared!” I was again holding Bo. I looked at Bo, and asked him, “You ready buddy!” He shook his head and said, “Yay, mama!” My brave, sweet, tiny boy is ready.
Then the football players came out, and walked over to us. Bo went over to them immediately. Carsten saw what was going on with Bo, and not be out done…he got down and went over to join the fun. They were so sweet to the boys! Levi Peters and Alan Lazard leaned down to talk with them. Then Coach Rhoads came over to meet them, and thank them for being apart of the team. It all was so surreal and amazing. It went sooooooo fast.
Then they grabbed hands with the ISU captains, and headed out to the middle of the field. It was at that moment….at that very moment….complete and utter happiness and pride nearly brought me to my knees. The feelings and memories crashed over me. I thought a million thoughts in one moment. I remember being in the hospital after Carsten was born. MJ and I having tearful talks about what Carsten’s life would look like. I remember a crying MJ saying, “He’ll never play football,” as we were coming to grips with what our life and Carsten’s life would look like. For an ex high school football coach, this fact and others like it were emotionally crushing just hours after what is meant to be one of the happiest moments of your life. Yet here we were proud parents standing on the sidelines watching Carsten proudly and bravely walk up the fifty yard line at Cyclone Stadium. In those first moments and even months after his birth, we had no idea what an amazing life he would live. Now we accept that we don’t know, and just enjoy being along for the ride…beaming from the sidelines as he marches away from us.
I also remembered having long conversations with MJ about feeling led to adopt Bo. Knowing that half a world away we had another son with Down syndrome waiting for his mom and dad to conquer their fears, and bring him home where he belongs. Just 16 months previously he was sitting in an orphanage with the bleakest life and future imaginable. Now he was walking onto the field in front of 8,000 cheering fans. Even the Cowboy fans from OSU loved that Bo wants to grow up to be a cowboy. 🙂 You know we aim to please in this house. Actually I feel I need to clarify. He wants to be a cowboy like Woody from Toy Story. However, if OSU is offering a free ride, I think he would love to be an OSU cowboy too. 😉
And there we were in this moment. This unbelievable moment where two brothers with Down syndrome walked onto the field holding hands with the Iowa State University football captains. It wasn’t a separate game or different event for people with special needs or “special” place for people with disabilities to shine. It was at the ISU vs OSU football game on November 14 in Jack Trice stadium. It was the very definition of inclusion and awesome! I urge all of you to please share this story. If your university teams don’t do something like this, please encourage them to start. Let’s inspire even professional teams to start doing this if they are not. I can tell you from the bottom of my heart and my boys’ hearts it is events like this that makes us feel “normal.” It makes us feel wanted and included. Now this….this right here….is what makes Carsten and Bo feel special. Being apart of the game they so love and admire. Even if it is for just a few brief shining moments. These are the moments that will live forever in our memories and our hearts. These are the moments that we will never forget, and never be able to repay. Thank you Blank Children’s Hospital and Iowa State University for making two little boys’ dreams come true!
Forever Grateful and Proud to be One,
Mother of Carsten and Bo…and Kat, Gabe, Elle, Griffin, Mae, and Eve