ONE OF thedriving forces in the Special Olympics movement is the passion of parents likeKathy and Marc Edenzon. Kathy was an All-America swimmer at Alabama in 1979 and'80 when she volunteered to help a Special Olympics bowling team. After schoolshe got a job in therapeutic recreation and continued to organize SpecialOlympics activities. Marc volunteered as a coach while majoring in specialeducation at Rutgers (class of '78) and later became the training director forSpecial Olympics New Jersey. The two met at a conference in 1986, married fouryears later and eventually settled in New Jersey.
Ten years ago, aneighbor asked Marc to talk with a couple whose newborn son had Down syndrome."They were really pretty broken up about it," Kathy says of theparents. "When Marc talked to the father, he said, 'There's nothing to talkabout. We're not keeping him.'" It didn't take long for the Edenzons todecide to adopt the child. "I often say if we had to buy a sofa, Marc and Iwould be close to divorce court," says Kathy. "When we heard aboutZachary, we looked at each other and we knew."
The Edenzons,parents of two children without special needs, Alexandra Jo (or A.J.), 14, andMichael, 12, adopted Zachary when he was five weeks old. Because of theirinvolvement with special-needs kids, Kathy and Marc knew the importance ofgetting Zach into early-intervention programs to work on his motor skills andspeech.
Like manychildren with Down syndrome, Zachary has speech apraxia, a condition thathinders a person from producing the correct word. For example, instead ofcalling his brother Michael, Zachary calls him Cul. Physically he has lowmuscle tone, which slows his learning of new skills.
It was when hebegan participating in Special Olympics, at age eight, that Zachary's worldbroadened outside his family. He began initiating interaction with other kids,something he rarely did before, and found ways to participate in athletics,even if it was only kicking a soccer ball or dribbling a basketball. "Hispeers motivate him," says Kathy, who still coaches Special Olympicsswimmers. "If you put him in a situation with other athletes, he getsit."
President ofSpecial Olympics New Jersey since 1995, Marc proudly displays the athletictriumphs of his youngest son along a wall of his office in Lawrenceville. Thecenterpiece is a photo of Zach with a big grin on his face, receiving a medalat his first New Jersey Games, in 2007. During this summer's state competition,a large group of Special Olympics athletes were treated to a Trenton Thunderminor league baseball game. "When I saw him [at the ballpark], he gave me ahug and a kiss," says Kathy, "and then he pushed me away and said,'Team.' He was basically like, It's good to see you Mom, but I'm with myteam."
That's just oneof the ways in which Zach has become more social and self-confident. "It'shis way to grow up," says Kathy. "This is his team, his uniform, hiscompetition. I think it helps him feel more like his sister andbrother."
Photographs by Lynn Johnson
Zach thrives on competition and the support of (from left) Michael, Kathy and A.J.