TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Kids with Down syndrome in the Austin area are getting a shot to play a new sport this week.
The first-ever soccer camp put on by the Down Syndrome Association of Central Texas and Austin Bold FC registered 40 kids, including siblings of those with the genetic disorder.
Beth Shurtz appreciates that. Her two kids, 7-year-old Jack, who has Down syndrome, and 9-year-old Lydia, are both taking part in the camp.
“Jack is most comfortable with his sister in doing things,” she said as she watched the group run drills from the sidelines. “Anytime you can connect siblings, I think it’s special. And it’s nice to give them that opportunity, because as they get older, the chances become less.”
Shurtz hopes Jack gains some new skills through the three-day camp, including using his feet more than his hands. “I have a future goalie, I believe,” she joked.
The camp proved popular in its inaugural year, selling out in less than 24 hours. DSACT has wanted to include soccer in its programming for some time, executive director Jennifer Edwards said, “so we were really happy when we got a phone call from the Bold wanting to have a meeting and talking about how we can partner together.”
Physical activity like this are crucial for development, Edwards said. As recently as the mid-1980s, the life expectancy for people with Down syndrome was only about 25 years old; now, it’s closer to 60.
That’s due in part to advances in medical science. Children with Down syndrome are also more likely to have health issues like congenital heart defects and early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Staying active, Edwards said, is an important way to combat negative health effects brought on by the disorder.
Ava Cruser, a caregiver through the Texas Health and Human Services Commission’s Medically Dependent Children Program, said her client, Rustin, was excited to attend the camp. “We were just ready to go,” she said. “As soon as we got that notice that we were in, we were ready to go.”
Cruser’s three daughters were among the large group of volunteers that on Monday included employees from Google.
The camp is also a partnership with Sunshine Soccer of Central Texas, a group founded by Sonny Guadarrama. The Bold FC midfielder grew up in the Austin area and returned to central Texas to play for the team’s inaugural season.
He and his teammates stopped their practice Monday morning to greet the group of kids and pass the ball around with them inside the stadium. The players posed for group and individual pictures with the children, too.
“That was really awesome,” Shurtz said, “and the kindness is just incredible.”
But seeing the players wasn’t the best part for her. The camp is all ages, so mixed in with the younger kids were older players also living with Down syndrome. “You’re watching the future,” she said, “and it’s seeing where is Jack going.”