I never would have imagined that one single outburst in reaction to seeing an oversized ‘Toy Story’ Woody doll in a Target in Minneapolis, MN would bring me two lifelong friends.
Lifelong friends that came from different places, at different phases in their lives. One in Connecticut, one in Colorado. One working for a non-profit, the other working at a Fortune 500 company. One would think that there would be nothing similar between the three of us.
Wrong. We all were bound by one thing – having a sibling with a disability and sharing our experiences together at a national sibling conference.
Growing up, I thought I was one of a kind. I am the youngest in my family, where all three of my older siblings have intellectual disabilities. My two brothers are on opposite ends of the Autism spectrum, and my sister has Down’s Syndrome.
I knew I was in a different place from other families, but didn’t realize until my adult years how much different I really was. There was never a typical ‘day in the life’ of being a sibling, and having all three have three separate disabilities, but how the world treated them really opened up my eyes.
Every time we went on a public outing such as the zoo or a public park, we would get stares. We would get derogatory comments. We would get staff (and even law enforcement) that wouldn’t understand that when my brother was having a temper tantrum, he wasn’t going to be aggressive towards anyone, but needed to express himself through hand gestures and flailing his arms.
The experience showed me that so many people had never truly experienced the sibling (or disability) experience firsthand. Growing up, I had never met another kid that shared the same experience as me. I kept a lot of those emotions to myself, as I never could find anyone that would be able to relate to these situations and how we were able to manage.
Sports became my outlet. Playing basketball was where I felt like I belonged. That became my identity. I felt accepted through that, and it took my life to incredible places. When my playing career (and my knee) gave out, I turned a passion for the love of sports to a love for the business of sports.
I entered into that world not knowing anyone, or anything. The only things I had were my passion and desire for sports, and solace in knowing that everyone around me had a similar interest in being in the sports business world. That passion took me to incredible places and experiences around the country and around the world.
I had the opportunity to meet some incredible as well that are doing amazing things in the industry. I found a lot of extrinsic fullfilment in my jobs in the sports business world and in the work that I did. But I still felt that something was missing. I still had to find my ‘why.’
Which leads this story back into that Target the night before the sibling conference began. I was once again placed into a situation where I was in a new area, not knowing anyone, or anything. I was also one of the youngest participants in attendance, and one of the only males. Again, the only things I had were my passion and desire to find my ‘why’, and solace in knowing that everyone around me had a similar interest and experience having siblings with disabilities.
All the differences of race, gender, location, age, place in life, and the like all went out the window once I started interacting with my new friends, Sandra and Mary. The only things that mattered were the mutual understanding, to the core, of our shared experience and the emotional support that came with it. Our guard was down, and we were able to authentically share who we really were.
That open dialogue that was shared from that night from a random Minneapolis Target to the panels at the conference was incredible.I had finally found others that truly understood the sibling with a difference experience. There was laughter, there was tears, but most of all, there was a bond.
The lesson I learned from that experience was that a true friendship is based on the foundation of camaraderie, openness, and shared experiences. We don’t expect anything from each other, and we will always be able to lean on each other when we need it. I am thankful that I have found that ‘why,’ to build meaningful.
To infinity, and beyond.