When giving birth, Candy Bogardus didn’t know she was having a daughter with Down syndrome. In fact, she didn’t even know she was having a daughter.
“We were blessed to find out those two things on the same day,” she said with a smile.
With twin boys already at home, Lainey was a welcomed edition to the growing household. And while they found numerous medical resources to help guide them, the family felt more could be done to bring together the community of parents raising differently abled children.
Soon thereafter, they founded the Lowcountry Down Syndrome Society with a few other families and began planning Savannah’s first Buddy Walk.
Now in its 13th year, the one-mile fundraising event draws more than 5,000 participants to Forsyth Park.
“We hold the Buddy Walk every year in October as part of National Down Syndrome Awareness Month,” said Tom Kenkel, president of Lowcountry Down Syndrome Society. “Our primary goal, however, is to make positive changes in local and national policies regarding Down syndrome. This event does a phenomenal job of helping us do just that.”
The walk is part of a global movement through the National Down Syndrome Society, which provides resources and materials for the local group, and works tirelessly to advocate for people with Down syndrome.
“They are the ones beating the pavement,” said Bogardus. “And that trickles down to our community. We are fighting for inclusion in the classroom, on sports teams, and allowing for gainful employment as an adult. We want our children to learn from their peers and become active members of society.”
Bogardus continued: “With events like this, we reach an audience that may not understand the unlimited potential of those with Down syndrome. And it’s because they place limits on them. We want to change that perspective. With each new family, you’re rippling that whole idea of inclusion and acceptance. You’re making a difference.”
Lainey turned 14 years old on Monday. She’s in the seventh grade, studying alongside her peers. She likes to pretend the annual Buddy Walk is her birthday celebration. Like every year, Lainey will be there front and center with the support of her family and friends. And, like every year, she will show you that having Down syndrome is not a limitation.
IF YOU GO
What: 2018 Buddy Walk
When: Registration at 8:30 a.m., walk at 10 a.m. Oct. 6
Where: Forsyth Park
Cost: $15 per person, $50 family of four; includes T-shirt, lunch, family fun festival