This family story shares their experience, joys and grief with other special needs families

tour special needs family

This is a true story about a family... a family that consists of a mom, a dad, a daughter and a son. The son is considered handicapped because he was born with Down syndrome.

This story is about a family that saw past a disability, and only saw a future. A future that would include changing how people feel about other people who are different.

It is a story of love and acceptance. How a family accepted a challenge that many would not want to face. A family that loved enough to conquer anything.

It is a story about an organization called Special Olympics and how it can change lives. Here are some excerpts from this true story of family inspiration.

Bryan Lambke was born in 1981 with Down syndrome. Twenty-two years later, he won a Gold Medal at the 2003 International Special Olympics in Dublin, Ireland. The story of the journey connecting those two events is the subject of Spirit, Courage & Resolve, A Special Olympics Athlete's Road To Gold, a new book by Bryan's proud father, Tom Lambke.

Bryan's birth

Clipping the umbilical cord, I could not help but notice that something was not quite right. Though I wanted to count toes and fingers, my attention was drawn to the fact that our son looked different than expected. I knew at that moment that our beautiful boy had Down syndrome and that our lives were about to change forever. The limited knowledge I had of this particular handicap did nothing to prepare me for how I should have felt. I experienced many emotion changes within moments of one another. I felt shock at first, then disbelief, followed by denial, and when I realized that nothing was going to change the outcome, a feeling of relief. I was relieved that at least God had chosen the two of us to raise this special child, rather than someone who would not appreciate the gift. I knew immediately that Karen would accept our son for what he was and work with him lovingly. I also knew she and I had work ahead of us but knew we were capable of handling the challenge.

Age one

With lumps in our throats, we took Bryan for more tests. The cardiologist confirmed our fears - there was a hole in Bryan's heart and he would need immediate open heart surgery. This was to be an extensive and costly operation. Fortunately my job with the United States Postal Service provided the excellent health insurance needed. The operation involved covering the hole with a Teflon patch that would grow with his heart. The morning of the operation, as he was being held by my dad, Bryan chose a moment to look up at me and clearly say, "Da da." To this day, I feel as if he was trying to tell me that everything would be all right. Though the procedure was a success, it did cause Bryan to spend his first birthday in intensive care. The nurses were wonderful considering the despair we felt as parents. They blew up latex gloves for balloons and surprised us with an impromptu birthday party. Their compassion and thoughtfulness helped us to survive a very tough time.

However, over the next two weeks, the incision became infected and a high fever persisted. Back to the hospital, this time for a three week stay, as the incision had to be drained and more antibiotics prescribed. The nurses had a difficult time trying to tap into Bryan's veins for the IV, and although they tried to be as gentle as possible, he still has the scars on his wrists and ankles from the repeated attempts. There were moments of touch and go and we prayed a lot. Incredible support from our families and friends helped to make each trip to the hospital more positive. Bryan's will to live was strong, even as a one-year-old, and he beat the infection I knew then that we had a fighter on our hands.

After winning the Gold medal at the 2003 International Special Olympics

As we were led to the podium and Karen realized what position we were in, she screamed with joy. Shauna and JP roared with happiness. I was practically crying as I realized that our hard work and practice had earned us the medal we had dreamed of winning. Incredibly proud of Bryan's attitude and determination throughout the entire trip, I wrapped my arms around him in excitement as Karen took pictures while Shauna videotaped the entire awards ceremony. It was an incredible moment that is permanently etched in my brain.

As we settled in for the ride back I noticed how sore I felt. We had hugged so many people that afternoon that my shoulders ached. It was definitely a good sore. After dropping the Irish bowling team at their quarters, we arrived at Maynooth where we were treated to a heroes’ welcome. It was an incredible feeling to walk into the cafeteria for dinner and have Bryan singled out for his accomplishment. We had won the gold and it was "brilliant." I felt like I was walking on a cloud.

"Watching Bryan and the other athletes compete was one of the most awe-inspiring moments of my life. They are all encouraged to play with spirit, courage, and resolve; but what I witnessed was even more moving. They all competed with unabashed joy, pleasure, and humility... characteristics of true champions".

During our flight home I had time to reflect on what we had just accomplished and witnessed. Even though we were heading back to the "real world", I felt like we actually had just left what the real world should really be: a place where there is no humiliation, mockery, or violence, only bravery, approval, and acceptance; a world without hate, only love; a world without fear, only incredible goals. We had spent fifteen days in a world where lying and cheating did not exist. Fifteen days that included two nights involving 75,000-plus people each night experiencing pure joy with absolutely no inhibitions. It was a world that should be an example to the rest of the globe. We all have a lot to learn from Special Olympic athletes and their attitude toward life. They do not hide their feelings and are not afraid to love. I only wish that the rest of the world could have "Shared the Feeling" with us.

There are many reasons why Bryan makes us extremely proud as parents, but my favorite, is trying anything we ask. It does not matter if it is a hike in the desert or a fifteen mile bike ride, he will try it. He has now taken on two jobs: 8-3pm, Monday through Friday, at TCH (The Center for Habilitation), and Friday 6-11pm and Sunday 1-9pm at the Chandler AMF Bowling Center . We are very proud of his dedication. He is even juggling two girlfriends, and I am very proud of that! Bryan is a happy, well-adjusted young man who is a pleasure to be around.

Bryan has grown and matured into quite a young man. He loves music, movies, girls, participating in Special Olympics, and watching hockey and baseball. Bryan's favorite rock band is Aerosmith and we have taken him and his sister to many live concerts. He has been involved in Special Olympics since age eight and has served as a torch bearer at State Summer Games in two states, Illinois and Arizona. He has competed in swimming, basketball, cycling, track and field, and of course, bowling.

Bryan is now employed at the Work Center at TCH, the Center for Habilitation and works two days a week at the Bowling Center. Bryan enjoys carpooling to work with his dad and receiving his check every other Friday. Bryan has returned home to live with his parents and sister temporarily. His stay at his own home was short-lived due to staffing issues, although he personally adjusted well and really loved it. His goals are to live independently from his parents and land a full time job in the outside world. A return to future World Games is certainly not out of the question. Bryan just turned twenty-three in December.

Lambke's book is an inspirational story about a family that saw past a disability and envisioned a future, one that would include changing how people feel about others who may be different. At the opening ceremonies of the 2003 Special Olympics, athlete Gabriel Clark was quoted as saying, "If you want to label me, label me able." Another athlete, Katie Meade of Iowa, gave a short but powerful, speech in which she made an impassioned plea to the public to treat people with special needs just as they would anyone else. "If you see one of us," she said, "ask us to sit by you. Get to know us … we're not so different."

Spirit, Courage & Resolve, A Special Olympics Athlete's Road To Gold is an eye-opening, inspiring story of a family's love. There are lessons in here for all of us. After reading this book, it is hoped that others will have a new outlook on the differences among us. It is hoped that others will have enough love to alter how they perceive someone because of how they look or act or sound. This story was written as a sign of gratitude to everyone who has ever done good in their lives. And to those who have yet to.

Author Tom Lambke is the new chairman of the Special Olympics Arizona Family Boosters Club. Tom and his family have been active at the local and state levels, and are long-time supporters of the Special Olympics movement. Tom is on the Advisory Board of Best Buddies Arizona. He has been a baseball umpire since the age of twelve, and enjoys coaching children in a variety of sports.

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