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Raising Brooke

Michael Myers is an officer with the St. Charles Police Department, and he is the father to SOMO athlete Brooke.

I was provided with the opportunity to speak at the 2011 Law Enforcement Torch Run kickoff event for Special Olympics. For those of you that are not familiar with LETR, police officers around the world raise money through various events throughout the year for Special Olympics. This would not be possible without the support of police chiefs and sheriffs around the globe. I was invited to speak because my 15-year-old daughter, Brooke, is a Special Olympics athlete, and I happen to be a police officer. I was invited to share our story. The following is a summary of that presentation:

Brooke was born on April 23, 1996. When she was born, we were told congratulations, you have a healthy baby girl. Less than 48 hours later, we were approached by some of the physicians who suggested that Brooke may have Down syndrome and would like our permission to test her. These doctors were the enemy, having informed us of the possibility of something that no parent wants to hear. We gave permission and began the task of waiting for the results. Two weeks later we received a telephone call letting us know that Brooke did in fact have Down syndrome.

Our initial reaction was similar to others that I have met when they learned their child was diagnosed with any type of special needs. The first thoughts were about all of the things that she would not be able to do; like get married, or go to college, or drive a car. We quickly learned to focus on what she can do and not, what she can’t do. The truth is that there are more similarities between people with special needs and typical people than there are differences.

When Brooke was about four months old, we learned that she needed open heart surgery to repair several holes in her heart. Despite the fact that we were angry at the doctors that told us about her having Down syndrome because they were the messenger, it was a blessing in disguise. About half of children born with Down syndrome have some type of heart defect. We would not have discovered this had it not been for the tests that were performed because of her diagnosis.

One of the most difficult things that we have ever had to do as parents was to turn our six month old child over to complete strangers and trust them with her life. The wait in the waiting room was unbearable, but you do learn that there is always someone out there that has it worse than you. Overall the surgery was a success, but we did learn that she would need another surgery in the future. That time arrived a year and one half later.

The surgery was done to repair her mitral valve. The challenge was whether or not the surgeon would be able to repair the valve or replace it. If he was unable to repair it, there would have been additional surgeries as she grew. Fortunately, he was able to repair her valve, and almost 14 years later she is doing great.

It is said that God does not give you anything you can’t handle. We have since had two boys that have each challenged that concept. That is another way that Brooke has been treated just like a typical child. Her brothers don’t give her any slack and constantly bother her like any brothers would to their sister.

Aside from the medical issues, the early years of Brooke’s life were not that much different from any other child. She attended the same day care as typical kids and participated in sporting events, such as T-ball. Kids with intellectual disabilities eat, sleep, cry and poop, just like all of the other kids.

She made a lot of friends who invited her to all of the birthday parties and invited her to play with them. This continued until about the beginning of middle school. This was the time that the intellectual differences between her and typical kids began to show. It was not that the other children stopped being nice to her, but the invitations stopped coming. The typical kids, with a few exceptions really didn’t know how to relate to her anymore.

Seeing this change developing, my wife got Brooke involved with Special Olympics. She could see that she needed something more. Her younger brother was beginning to participate in various sports. From the very beginning, Brooke was welcomed and encouraged. It was not long before Brooke was earning medals in various sports. You could see the improvement in her athletic ability with time, and you could see the confidence increase.

For many of the athletes involved in Special Olympics, this is the only time that people talk to them at all. Many people with intellectual disabilities go all day without being spoken to at all.

Of the many things that can’t be measured in medals are the relationships that have been built with Brooke and other athletes, as well as, between our family and other families. A benefit that we didn’t even realize in the beginning was the benefit of meeting other families that were facing similar challenges that we were facing.

Special Olympics also provided an avenue for some of Brooke’s typical friends to socialize with her. Brooke participates in Unified basketball, which allows for her typical friends to play on the team alongside the athletes with intellectual disabilities. This relationship allows for the athletes to model the behavior of their typical peers. The experience will also stay with the typical athletes for their entire lives.

This year, Brooke has been more involved in the activities that support Special Olympics. She ran the torch into Ameristar Casino for the St. Charles leg of the Torch Run and appeared on a billboard in St. Louis with Rams player Robert Quinn and another athlete. She really enjoyed participating in all of the activities this year.

We all entered law enforcement for the same reason; to help those who cannot help themselves. Sometimes the administrative work and paperwork overshadow what we are really supposed to be doing. We all face the same issue as it relates to manpower, but we always find time to listen to the mayor, counsel people, alderman, and citizens that want to be that squeaky wheel. Just because it’s not squeaking does not mean that it doesn’t need oil.

People with intellectual disabilities are part of our communities as well. In fact, depending on who you are talking to, there are between 200,000,000 and 300,000,000 people in the world with intellectual disabilities. Unless you live in a city with less than 25 people, you have citizens that have intellectual disabilities in your community.

In closing, I want to thank all of you for allowing my family to share some of our life with you. I hope in some way our story helps to motivate those that are already involved to work harder, or inspire some to get involved. I want to thank all of the officers and the administrators that allow them some time for their fundraising efforts. For those of you that are not involved, I encourage you to go back to your departments and begin now. You don’t have to raise a large amount of money to be part of this movement. I just ask that you get involved because this is your community.