This story written by Little City Coach Maggie Brennan

Two new friends bound by one hug from someone with Down syndrome.

Special Olympics State Games were approaching and 18 athletes from Little City were participating in their final practices, packing their suitcases, grabbing their pillows and blankets and making their way to the Recreation Center on an early Friday morning. For most, this was the weekend they had been looking forward to pretty much all year. The moment they received their gold medals at their qualifying events they started counting down the days until we left for Bloomington. For Simone, this was her story.

For others, this wasn’t their story. For some, this weekend led to anxiety over a new schedule for the weekend, the fear of not knowing where we were going and not having gone in the past. And for some people, this anxiety gets expressed physically. For Stavi, this was her story.

Day One: Stavi was anxious about taking the bus ride to a place she did not know. She was visibly frustrated that her schedule was going to be different for a few days and as she repeated her new schedule, she became very upset and started crying. Simone noticed this behavior within minutes and walked directly over to Stavi, grabbed her hands, looked her in the eyes and said “It’s ok Stavi, don’t cry.” And in that moment she embraced Stavi with an inviting hug. From then on, the two were joined at the hand. It has been said that individuals with Down syndrome show extra affection and love to give hugs. Those hugs that people talk about are truly amazing and this hug in particular may have been the key to Stavi’s happiness throughout the entire weekend. With a few scattered moments of tears throughout the day, Stavi got through day one with Simone looking out for her everywhere they went. When it was time to walk to and from dinner, to the events, at the events, and home from the events, Simone did not walk away without grabbing Stavi’s hand.

Day Two: For most of the day Stavi and Simone were at separate events, and as Stavi adapted more to her schedule for the weekend her nerves and anxiety seemed to lessen. She participated in her softball throw in the morning where she took second place and left with a Silver Medal and a picture of her smiling ear to ear to prove it! It wasn’t until the afternoon where the two were reunited at Simone’s powerlifting competition. As a group we decided to head back to the dorms to get ready for dinner and as I looked behind me to make sure everybody was following, Simone was rushing through to get to Stavi. She calls out her name, grabs her hand, and they walked the whole way home together like two peas in a pod.

Day Three: On our third and final morning we packed up our belongings and ate breakfast as a team one last time before heading to our bus to go home. Sure enough, just like all the other meal times Simone was right next to Stavi. Stavi knew the weekend was over and it was time to go home. Simone didn’t go anywhere without making sure Stavi was okay and asking her “Are you happy?” whenever she could. She also welcomed her with open arms whenever Simone felt she needed to give her a hug. As a team we boarded the bus and headed back to Little City. The two were “best friends” according to Simone by the end of the weekend and it was truly special to have witnessed this kind of a bond and the impact Simone had on Stavi.

Moral of the story: Sometimes all you need is a hug.