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Get to Know Inspiring Runner and Author with Down Syndrome

Just like our own GiGi Gianni and our founder Nancy Gianni inspire us every day, we had the honor of meeting another Mother/Daughter duo impacting lives.

author with Down syndrome

Book Signing at the Playhouse

it's cool to be me book by kayleigh williamson

We recently hosted a book signing at the Playhouse. This wasn’t just any book signing either. Kayleigh Williamson was in Detroit to run the Detroit Free Press International Half Marathon on Sunday, October 20, 2019. Kayleigh is a marathon runner who also has Down syndrome! On top of that, she recently published a book called It’s Cool to Be Me! How amazing is that?! We had around 35 families come out to meet Kayleigh, get her book, and encourage her in running the Detroit race the next day. If you missed the book signing, you can get your own copy here. We were honored to host Kayleigh’s book signing and be a part of sharing her inspiring story! And to top off the weekend, Kayleigh set a personal record at the Detroit Half Marathon! Congratulations Kayleigh!

Get to know Kayleigh

We asked the local family, Rudy and Amber Rodriguez who invited her to Detroit to run the marathon, to share their story of how they connected with Kayleigh and her Mom Sandy two years ago in Texas. It’s powerful how social media can bring us together and spread messages of hope and inspiration.

Written by Rudy Rodriguez

marathon runner with Down syndromeAmber and I started running together during our first year of dating and into our marriage.  Together, we completed two half marathons, the Bataan Death March, and a handful of shorter races.  We were maybe “weekend warrior” runners.  Not serious enough to get in daily training miles at 4.a.m., but serious enough to get them in when we could, wear funny toe shoes, and drink slimy chia (because we read it in the book “Born to Run”).  When Lila and Everly were born, running became something that we would eventually get back to.  As luck would have it, the universe sent us the inspiration we needed to complete another run.

We first heard about Kayleigh Williamson in early 2017.  Amber had co created a non-profit Down syndrome awareness group in Laredo, Texas called Down Moms of Laredo.  That spring, Down Moms was organizing its first 5k run at North Central Park in north Laredo.

Connecting Through Social Media

While flipping through Facebook, I read an article about Kayleigh Williamson from Austin, Texas that  named her the first person with Down syndrome to finish the Austin Half Marathon.  Through Facebook, we reached out to Sandy Williamson, Kayleigh’s mom, to see if Kayleigh would be interested in being a guest speaker at the run.  Although our schedules didn’t line up for this event, this led to us following Sandy and Kayleigh’s social media on a regular basis.

We kept up with Sandy and Kayleigh through social media through our move to Detroit.  We heard about the Detroit Free Press International Half Marathon and thought it was a cool idea, and something that we should do while in Detroit.  So we decided to throw out the invite to Sandy.  To our delight, she, Kaleigh, and their friend Lorri signed up and committed.

marathon runner with Down syndrome

Sandy’s social media posts resonated with us because she painted a candid picture of life as a parent of a young adult with Down syndrome.  As fairly new parents of a child with Down syndrome, we are always looking for as much information as possible to guide our journey.  A good majority of posting on social media is geared toward school age children.  Sandy has given us a blue print to raising a successful child into adulthood that lives a life of happiness, maintains meaningful relationships, adds value to her community and inspires others.

One of the most powerful realizations we had as new parents is that we would teach our children more by example than by verbally instructing them.  Sandy personifies this.  Instead of dropping Kayleigh off with her training partners, she laces up her shoes and adds the miles in right along with Kayleigh.  Sandy is a mother, coach, mentor, teacher and advocate, but most of all, she sets the example for Kayleigh by doing.  And whether she knows it or not, she sets the example for the rest of us too.

Appreciating Kayleigh’s Accomplishments

To understand the Kayleigh’s achievements, you have to understand the physical struggles a person with Down syndrome often faces.  Along with a host of ailments that might discourage them to toe the starting line in a race, they also face hypotonia and ligament laxity.  Each one of their steps takes exponentially more effort than that of a typical person.  This is on top of any host of reasons and excuses a typical person might lean on to talk themselves out of running 13.1 miles.  Kayleigh’s mantra of “I can do this, I’m going to do this, and no one is going to stop me!” has proven stronger than hypotonia and ligament laxity.  It has proven stronger than any number of excuses the rest of us might come up with.  It has proven stronger than any stigma society might put on the Down syndrome community.  This mantra has given her the strength to cross seven half-marathon finish lines.

What better activity to promote inclusiveness than running?  The start and finish lines of any race will include a wide variety of people and body types, from all walks of life.  Why not include our loved ones with Down syndrome?  In a world where “civilized” first world countries boast their Down syndrome eradication rate, Kayleigh fights social stigma not by protesting, not by rioting, but by putting one foot in front of the other, for 13.1 miles, and smiling as she crosses finish lines.  The trail she is blazing paves the way for our little ones and makes their future that much brighter.   That trail is going to continue to grow… my prediction is by 26.2 miles in the near future.

Action Steps

We are grateful for the Rodriguez family for inviting Kayleigh and Sandy to Detroit and asking our Playhouse to host her book signing! If Kayleigh’s story has inspired you, definitely get a copy of her book. Maybe look for an activity that you can jump into with your child with Down syndrome? And share her story to inspire others – both those impacted by Down syndrome, and those who have no connection. Kayleigh is changing perceptions and expectations!!

author with Down syndrome

author with down syndrome

1 Comment

  1. Suzann Dvorken on October 30, 2019 at 4:01 am

    Wonderful article. I have been cheering Kayleigh and Sandy on since meeting them several years ago at WW. They have become family and both inspire me every day.

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