To my little sister with Down syndrome – This is what you taught me

To: Ariel Thomas

From: Adam (As told to Lauren Brill)

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To my little sister Ariel,

I remember the day you were born like it was yesterday. Your dad, my step dad, pulled me and our brother to the side and told us you and your twin sister finally arrived. He then told us that you, Ariel, had a condition called Down syndrome. I was seven at the time so I questioned what Down syndrome actually meant.  My step dad told me you were different. He told me people might make fun of you or laugh at you. As your big brothers, he asked us to watch out for you and take care of you. I have tried to guide you as best I can but as I look back it’s actually you who has shown me the way.

We grew up in South Phoenix which is among the roughest areas in Phoenix. There was a lot of poverty. My friends were dying. I went to too many funerals in high school. I didn’t want to go down the same path that I saw some many others go.  I wanted to be different and because of you I wasn’t afraid to be different.

I remember sometimes we’d be walking and people would look at you funny and walk to the other side of the street because they didn’t know what was wrong with you. That really hurt me. But it didn’t hurt you. You thought that something must be wrong with them. Never once did you think it was you. You were never uncomfortable in your own skin or afraid to be who you are.

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Adam with his family, including his sister Ariel.

With you as my example, I proudly paved my own path out of our impoverished neighborhood. I worked hard on the football field and in school. First I went to a community college and then I transferred to Missouri State. My junior year at Missouri State I ruptured my hip.  It required major surgery. I had to learn how to walk again. Because of you I saw it as a hurdle not impassable barrier.

See, I watched you struggle with your speech growing up. You would get frustrated when people did not understand you. You started working with a speech therapist. They kept coming to the house and you kept working. And now you are able to express yourself and people can understand you. It’s you who taught me how to jump over hurdles as opposed to turning back around.

I have tried to guide you as best I can but as I look back it’s actually you who has shown me the way.

Adam is seven years older than his sister, Ariel.

That’s not all you taught me. I achieved my dream to play professional football, competing in the Arena Football League.  I even got tryouts in the CFL and NFL. When I finished playing I decided to start a foundation to help kids in our neighborhood. It’s appropriately named The Adam Dixon Perseverance Foundation. I want to help provide children the resources to go to college. I want to support them and encourage them through their challenges. And I want to help them see the world the way you see the world.

You don’t see people or life the way others do. You don’t see black. You don’t see white. You don’t see gay and you don’t see straight. You don’t see poverty and you don’t see struggle.  You find the best in people and you find the best in life, by always having a positive and happy attitude. You don’t judge and you don’t care who someone is or where they come from. All you care about is the kindness in someone’s character and the affection in someone’s heart. You genuinely love everyone and you have taught me to do the same.

Adam’s sister Ariel inspired him to give back.

My charity has given out nearly $10,000 in scholarship money to my old high school. We have a scholarship for individuals with Down syndrome. We are working on a group home. One child I mentored is in his second year of college now. His parents were deported and he has no family in Arizona but he is persevering. I’m proud to say he made the Dean’s list at Arizona State, where  he is pursuing a career in medicine. We are making a difference in people’s lives and it’s because of you.

There is a reason God made you my little sister. You helped me to find my purpose. You have helped show me the type of  man and the type of person I want to be. And while when you were born I questioned what Down syndrome would mean for your life, I had no idea it meant you’d have all the answers for mine,

I love you so much,

Your big brother Adam
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