Reaching for the Stars With Down Syndrome

The Jakarta Globe

Stephanie Handoyo, swimmer

Stephanie Handoyo may have Down syndrome, but that hasn’t kept the vigorous 18-year old from achieving goals other people only dream of.

Not only has Stephanie won various swimming championships, she’s also listed in the Indonesian Museum of Records as having played 23 songs in a row on the piano during a showcase in Semarang, Central Java.

Her mother, Maria Yustina, could not be prouder. On the day she found out she was going to give birth to a baby with Down syndrome, Maria bought a book about the condition to prepare for the special challenges she would face as parent. Then when Stephanie was just 3 years old, she began helping her to be independent.

“Some parents just don’t want to invest their time teaching and communicating with their children, who each have special needs that require patience and time to understand,” Maria said. This often leads parents to feel the need to “hide” their children, she said.

“From the day they are born until they are 6 years old, that’s the golden age, and you have to completely focus on them.”

By the time Stephanie was 3, she was already learning how to swim, something that Maria knew would benefit her daughter’s motor skills and contribute to muscle development. And when she turned 9, Stephanie began taking private piano lessons.

These days, Stephanie trains three times a week, for two hours at a time at the pool. And when she’s preparing for a competition she’s in the water for up to four hours at a time. .

“She’s won every swimming competition she’s competed in. Or at least gotten second or third place” Maria said.

But there have been setbacks, too. “Once, during a swimming competition she almost drowned in the pool,” Maria said. “That traumatized her and she didn’t swim for three years after that.”

To get Stephanie back into the pool Maria had to get in the water with her daughter and carry her in her arms to the middle of the pool. It was Maria’s way of showing her daughter that she would always be there to keep her safe.

Stephanie is now training to qualify for the 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Athens.

“The government has also been very helpful in assisting parents of children with Down syndrome, especially those with accomplishments such as Stephanie’s,” Maria said.

Michael Rosihan Yacub, golfer

Aryanti Rosihan Yacub always knew her son Michael would be a success. So despite the long looks and stares of strangers, Aryanti never stopped encouraging him.

“I never cared about all the negative things that people say about children with Down syndrome,” Aryanti said. “I’ve always believed that if a child receives support, they can be as successful as normal people.”

Her patience and fortitude has inspired her son to break down barriers and fight off discrimination. In late 2009, the Indonesian Museum of Records (MURI) recognized the 20-year-old Michael as the only registered golfer in Asia living with Down syndrome.

Michael’s parents knew they were onto something when in 2006 he competed in a charity golf event in Singapore and finished fifth among 140 entrants.

“Most people underestimated him in the beginning, but Michael proved that they were wrong,” Aryanti said.

But Michael’s success didn’t happen overnight. Michael’s journey began when he was just 2 years old. Raised in a house of golf enthusiasts, Michael took to golf like a duck to water.

“It was when he was 8 when I decided to find a coach for him,” Aryanti said. Since then Michael has practiced swinging his clubs at least two times a week.

Aryanti said golf was instrumental in helping Michael improve his focus and discipline, while also providing him with a form of exercise.

“Golf is a game of concentration. It requires the player to focus real hard,” she said. “It’s a perfect sport for children with Down syndrome.”

During the MURI ceremony, Michael competed in an 18-hole tournament with other members of his golf club in Pondok Indah, South Jakarta. Although he didn’t win he shot an inspiring 108.

“He impressed everyone,” Aryanti said.

Aryanti said she always saw Michael’s condition as a blessing and not a curse.

“Children with Down syndrome are not trash in the society; instead they’re gifts from God. ”

The next step, Aryanti said, is to guide Michael toward a completely independent life.

“I know Michael’s IQ is only 35, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be independent,” she said. “With a lot of support from the family he can run his life like a normal person.”

Juliwati Jati, athlete and dancer

Juliwati Jati rarely misses a Special Olympics practice. And if she does it’s for good reason. The 17-year-old, currently a student at Dian Grahita School for Children with Special Needs in Central Jakarta, has a lot going on.

Juli, originally from Sampit district, East Kalimantan, has impressed her coaches and teachers with her passion and spirit.

The two-time Special Olympics medal winner is also a talented dancer.

Harison Sirait, the sports teacher at Dian Grahita, said Juli was someone her teammates could look up.

“At the last Special Olympic in Canberra, Australia, in 2008, Juli competed in two events and she won a silver medal for an individual basketball competition and a gold medal for running competition,” he said.

Harrison, who has coached Juli since 2000, said that Juli’s attitude and work ethic were what won her the hearts and minds of her peers.

Juli, who left her parents when she was just 2 years old to live in Jakarta with her aunt, has traveled to Canberra, Shanghai and Singapore to compete in Special Olympics events.

Under the guidance and support of her aunt in Jakarta, Juli juggles school, practice and dance competitions.

Along with seven other classmates, Juli competes in competitions as part of the SLB C Dian Grahita Jakarta dance group.

Agus Sucipto, Juli’s dance instructor, said that as long as the music was cheerful the energetic students took to the rhythm and dance with enthusiasm.

“For us, it’s not about being named the winner of the dance competition. It is about competing,” said Suster Joanni, the principal of Dian Grahita.

“Their hard work and their willingness are more than enough to be a winner for themselves.”

One thought on “Reaching for the Stars With Down Syndrome

  1. Every year, one child in every 800 to 1,000 births will be born with a condition known as Down syndrome. Down syndrome is a disorder in which the child has extra genetic material. This extra genetic material causes the baby to develop differently in the womb. This abnormal development occurs during the early stages of cell division, soon after conception…

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