Saturday, June 20, 2009

Oregon girl with Down syndrome finds acceptance at dojo

From the Statesman-Journal:

Not everyone has welcomed 6-year-old Lora Harrington.

Two athletic groups in the Salem-Keizer area didn't return her mother's inquiries when she tried to enroll her daughter.

Cory Harrington had told both groups her daughter has Down syndrome.

Harrington later received responses from the two organizations that ignored her — but only when she omitted Lora's condition. A third group would have taken her daughter but seemed reluctant.

Harrington wanted a place that would accept her little girl as she is.

One of Harrington's friends told her, "You need to meet Keegan."

Keegan Ireland has run Ireland's ATA (American Taekwondo Association) Martial Arts dojo for 10 years. Ireland trains children and adults with a wide range of physical and mental abilities. He now offers a class for three 6-year-old girls with Down syndrome, including Lora.

With a little encouragement from Harrington, Ireland has gone from being welcoming to specifically seeking students with Down syndrome. On Saturday at his Keizer dojo, he is holding a workshop on Songahm Taekwondo for children with the condition.

"I'm someone who has an open mind who is willing to take on all kinds of challenges as long as people are patient with me," Ireland said.

The fourth-degree black belt has no formal training when it comes to children with developmental disabilities. He only knows what he's picked up since a little boy with Down syndrome walked into his dojo 10 years ago.

From that child and many other students since then, the main thing Ireland discovered he needs when it comes to children with the Down syndrome is patience.

A student may be easy to train one day. Another day, the student may have trouble focusing, working on one move for the entire class.

But Ireland's efforts in the class of three girls with Down syndrome are paying off.

Since Lora started kicking and punching at Ireland's a year ago, her balance and strength have vastly improved. That's important to her mother, who added the workouts help combat another issue. People with Down syndrome tend to gain weight.

Even if the little girls weren't benefiting physically, Harrington said: "It's great to have a place that wants her."

Harrington has learned the hard way that acceptance isn't something a child with Down syndrome can take for granted. But, neither does that child have to live with rejection, at least not at Ireland's dojo.

"We've been so happy," Harrington said