Sunday, September 4, 2011

In St. Cloud, Minn., Cathedral student with Down syndrome dancing at season opener

From St. Cloud Times in Minn.:

Ever since she was little, Megan Bjorklund (pictured) loved to dance.

Her father remembers watching her dance to musicals on television. Her mom encouraged her with musical DVDs.

A dream comes to fruition tonight for the eighth-grader with Down syndrome when she performs with the St. Cloud Cathedral dance team at halftime of the Crusaders’ football game.

Cathedral plays Holdingford at 7 p.m. at St. Cloud State University in the season opener. It’s one of a number of opening games played this week in the area.

Bjorklund, the first Down syndrome student at Cathedral, will watch her brother Bjorn, a running back, play in the game.

“He’s amazing,” she said.

And Bjorn plans to stay on the field during halftime to watch his sister perform.

It’s a poignant moment for the Byron and Peg Bjorklund family, which includes children Andrew, 22, Jordan, 21, Bjorn, 17, Claire, 15, and Megan, 13. All either have participated or are participating in multiple activities at Cathedral. Claire is on the girls’ soccer team.

“She’s always full of joy, happy to see you,” Bjorn Bjorklund said of Megan.

“We’re active and she wants to do the same.”

So Megan will dance. She has practiced with the rest of the Cathedral dance team.

“She’s so proud to be a part of the football game,” Byron Bjorklund said.

Dance team is recognized as a winter sport by the Minnesota State High School League. The fall is reserved for nonscored performances, like the one the team will do at halftime today.

“We love performing at football games because the crowds are so much better than at our meets,” senior captain Tasha Johnson said.

Without the stress of being closely scored as it is in the winter, many participants try dance team in the fall to see if they want to participate in the competitive season.

When Cathedral dance team coach Sara Marek was asked about Megan Bjorklund participating, she quickly said yes.

“There wasn’t a second thought when they asked to have her on our team,” said Marek, who became emotional when talking about Megan. “It was an immediate yes with no hesitation.”

“It’s all about inclusion. We need to be there for every kid.”

Teammates like Johnson, senior Kristi Clark and junior Whitney Hughs enjoy having Megan on the team. They help her out with the routines.

“It’s so much fun having her on the team,” Clark said.

“She’s doing so good,” Hughs said.

Megan Bjorklund was born on Sept. 11, 1998. Her parents knew she was going to have some difficulties when she was in the womb. They want to spread her story publicly because so many similar pregnancies are terminated.

They believe they’ve been blessed with a gift from God.

“She’s taught me more about myself than anything I can say that I taught her,” Byron Bjorklund said. “I think we all can agree that we are created in God’s image.

“That’s what we say about Megan.”

Megan is aware of her situation.

Her mom asks her if she has Down syndrome. She nods her head yes.

Peg Bjorklund said there was never any question whether she would attend Cathedral like her brothers and sister. Many parents choose to send students like Megan to the St. Cloud school district, which has programs and support staff for cognitively challenged students.

But her support system at Cathedral is strong.

“Bjorn is really, really good with her,” Cathedral senior football player Michael Kerber said.

“Everybody likes her,” said Tommy McMorrow, another Cathedral football player.

Her mom says Megan has the same dreams and aspirations as many teenagers. She wants to have a boyfriend and be popular. And she wants to dance.

“It’s fun,” she said. “I like it.”

She said she’ll be a little nervous tonight. Her mother says she approaches the performance like everything else. She goes at it with a passion and isn’t afraid of failure or trying again.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Bjorn Bjorklund said of watching his sister dance. “I’m sure she’ll do great.”