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EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a guest blog post by Maria Chiara Pala, a Godmother from Italy who can’t wait for her Goddaughter, Mary, to become a Special Olympics athlete.

Mary & Maria

Mary & Maria

14 months have passed since May 2013 when Mary came into the world well in advance of the expected date.  It was the beginning of months of worry and angst as Mary was hospitalised in the intensive care unit.  Day by day she was making great improvement and in a short time she was able to join the other babies in the nursery.

She is very strong, a “bull” I say, a real fighter. She was born weighing less than 1 kg but very quickly she got used to the baby bottle so she was able to feed normally. These months were terrible but fortunately her stay in the hospital was due only to her prematurity and not to problems related to Down syndrome.  For her parents and relatives like me they were difficult months and the news of the “extra chromosome” only added stress to the situation.

When we first found out that Mary has Down syndrome I wept a whole day asking myself how Mary will be able to live in such an ignorant world, full of stupid prejudices. I wondered if she’ll succeed in being autonomous, if she’ll have a companion to share her life with when she is grown up – all kinds of questions from a person ignorant about intellectual disability.

After this sleepless night I woke up in a different mood, with a strange well-being, all the angst of the day before had vanished as I realized that the only thing to be afraid of about Down syndrome was that my heart might blow up from all the love I feel when I look into Mary’s eyes.

A special bond was established between Mary and myself and it grew even stronger when I found out that my companion and I were to become her Godparents. We take great care of her as if she was our own daughter and we try to make her happy every minute we’re with her, the same way she makes us so happy.

Mary is incredible and an extrovert.  She is always in good humour and loves cuddles, but she can also be shy at times. I have tried to learn more on the internet about Down syndrome and families’ experiences.  During my search I found Special Olympics Italy on Facebook and during the Football Regional Games in Cagliari we went to Sardinia to meet Special Olympics staff to get more information. What an incredible day! We were both nervous but thrilled and curious at the same time.  Thanks to the fantastic team at Special Olympics we soon found ourselves at ease, it seemed as if we knew each other for a long time!

The emotion of what I saw was immense. I watched athletes competing and I thought about all the things our Mary can do in the future, cared for by the fantastic volunteers that can see beyond disability and love Special Olympics athletes as they were their own family members.

As soon as we arrived home I told Mary’s parents about the wonderful day we had. I explained to them how therapeutic and stimulating sports can be but also how relaxing, amusing and helpful it was to mix and share experiences with other families.

I’m looking forward to the day when Mary will become a Special Olympics Young Athlete. I cannot wait.

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