Evangeline Colarossi–Staff Writer
A foggy and soggy morning couldn’t diminish the excited spirits of Noelle, an animated eleven-year-old with Down syndrome. She tediously zipped up her jacket, tied, retied, and re-retied her hot pink sneakers. Now she only had to wait. This was her day.
Saturday, October 6th, the people of Sioux City held a festive Buddy Walk to celebrate the joys of having an extra chromosome. Buddy Walks are the National Down Syndrome Society’s way of raising awareness of Down syndrome throughout the month of October. The first Buddy Walk took place in 1995 and are now held all over the world.
The event came to a roaring beginning with the entire crowd singing “The Y.M.C.A.” Smiles stretched across almost everyone’s faces as the kids made up their own dances and the adults stuck to hand motions. The Sioux Center Boy Scout troop marched the flag to the front of the crowd for the national anthem.
Trey Poppema, a young man with Down syndrome, sang the “Star Spangled Banner.” With a slightly wavering voice, Poppema stood his ground and individuals from the crowd chimed in. Then, the sea of black, blue, and purple T-shirts marched outside to start what they came there for.
Originally planned to be outside in Sioux Center Central Park, organizers relocated the Buddy walk to the Dordt College Rec Center due to weather issues. Despite the cloudy sky and drizzly morning, the turnout was a large one. 564 walkers registered, many bringing along younger, unregistered children to participate.
The planned route was approximately one mile long. Although not very far, it was long enough to raise awareness and elevate heart rate, but not enough to tire the participants out for the upcoming events. Local police held up traffic as the line of walkers stretched over the block. Kids jumped over puddles while parents grabbed for their children’s hands. The walkers marched past Hardee’s, across a gas station, and down several blocks of houses before turning back towards the college Kids burst with even more energy for the home stretch, knowing the activities that waited for them.
Everyone returned to the Rec Center after the walk to have lunch and let the kids run wild. Squeals of laughter were heard as the kids bounced in inflatables, popped balloon animals, and rode on a tractor train. The adults participated in the fun as well, when the ‘In the Moment Photo Booth’ opened up. People squeezed into the booth to get a picture to commemorate the event, donning funny hats, glasses, and feather boas.
Hours later, when the energy had died down and the kids were exhausted, parents hauled more than they came with to the car. Balloons floating overhead and shoes dragging on the ground, everyone’s tired eyes still held a gleam of a smile.
“It was great fun!” One participant said. “I felt like for one day you don’t think about how other people look at [individuals with Down syndrome] different. It felt like a big celebration. My heart is full of joy.”
The first Sioux Center Buddy Walk took place in October of 2001, and the Tri-State Down Syndrome Network hosts one every 3 years. The other two years, Buddy Walks can be located in Cedar Falls, Fort Dodge, and Mason City, Iowa. Participants come from as far as Minnesota, South Dakota, and Iowa.
Renita Maassen, co-coordinator of the Sioux Center Buddy Walks believes that these walks are “a great opportunity to be together as families and friends, and it is an opportunity to share what Down syndrome is with the community.”
Maassen became involved with the Buddy Walk through Lauri Poppema, who had attended a Buddy Walk in Sioux Falls. Poppema wanted to host a walk in Sioux Center, and through the work of three moms, the Sioux Center Buddy Walk was formed.
Besides raising awareness throughout the local community, Buddy Walks also create opportunities for families affected by Down syndrome to connect with one another. The goal at the end of the day was just as the National Down Syndrome Society intended. “It’s not about celebrating disabilities, it’s about celebrating abilities.”
If you would like to learn more about Down syndrome or how to be involved, go to www.ndss.org or contact the Tri-State Down Syndrome Network on Facebook.