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An Out-Of-Sight Connection
From Down Syndrome WorldTM 2019 Issue 2 of 4
Last year, the Global Down Syndrome Foundation’s 10th Anniversary Be Beautiful Be Yourself Fashion Show brought together two very different football fans: Denver Broncos Lineback Von Miller and one of his biggest Admirers, sports-loving 14-year-old Daniel Walshe. The two connected over their love of the game – and fashionable eyewear.
FOR MODELS AND ATTENDEES ALIKE, Global’s annual Be Beautiful Be Yourself Fashion Show is an unforgettable, magical experience. For Global participant Daniel Walshe, the fashion show was a chance to meet one of his longtime heroes, Super Bowl 50 MVP Von Miller. In 2011, Von was drafted by the Broncos as the No. 2 overall draft pick from Texas A&M University. Since then, the seventime Pro Bowl linebacker has posted the most sacks in the NFL. Daniel, a Broncos superfan, owns a Von Miller jersey and even rocks thick black-rimmed glasses because they look like Von’s trademark frames. Von was standing in front of the ballroom entrance when Daniel saw him, and Von greeted him with a big bear hug.
“Von was nice and friendly!” Daniel remembers..
“Both of them looked like they were having such a good time,” says Elaine Walshe, Daniel’s mom. “In fact, Daniel was so excited that a couple weeks later, he convinced us to take him to his first Broncos game to see his new friend in action.”
“I heard great things about Global’s fashion show from some of my current and former teammates that participated, like Peyton Manning and Brandon McManus,” Von says. “I went in not really knowing what to expect but wanted to go and show support for the event. I left being totally impacted by the type of community surrounding Global and the things they do. It was definitely lifechanging for me.”
TACKLING ADVERSITY & CREATING CHANGE
Being the successful athlete and force of nature on the football field that he is, it’s difficult to imagine a guy like Von Miller feeling self-conscious. But when he was a skinny, glasses-wearing fifth grader in Texas, Von didn’t feel destined for a career in professional football. In fact, at first, he had to beg his father to allow him to join a youth football team at the time because his father didn ’t believe he was ready to play. When Von finally began playing, he remembers enduring taunts from other children about his sports glasses.
“I started wearing glasses in second grade,” Von tells. “At first, I’m not going to lie, it was horrible. It wasn’t cool. When I found out I had to wear glasses, I was sad and depressed about it, but over time, I just grew into them, and they became ‘me.’ That’s how I can relate with so many kids who have glasses.”
After establishing himself as a successful professional football player in the NFL, Von was able to turn his childhood insecurities and fears into a way of inspiring children and boosting their confidence.
In 2012, he established Von’s Vision, a philanthropic organization that provides free eye exams and glasses to low-income children in the Denver area. To date, the organization has raised $5.1 million and provided over 8,500 Denver students with free eye care services. Throughout the year, Von’s Vision also funds portable optical exam centers so children in the community can get the eye exams they need.
Von was awarded the 2017 Broncos’ Community Impact Award for his charitable influence. Every spring, the team rallies in support of Von and hosts Von’s Vision Day Celebration at Broncos Stadium at Mile High. Children from identified schools and community organizations are invited to receive free eye screenings and exams. Additionally, participants are given the chance to meet Von.
“There are so many wonderful things we’ve done with the organization,” Von says proudly. “When we created Von’s Vision, I was happy to help one or two kids. To help so many kids and raise so much money for glasses is amazing. I have a wonderful team behind me that has blessed me and allowed me to impact so many lives.”
Up to 50% of people with Down syndrome will need glasses. The most common vision problems include farsightedness, nearsightedness, strabismus (crossed eyes), and astigmatism (blurred vision). Daniel started wearing glasses in kindergarten to address his farsightedness and astigmatism.
Von’s philanthropy work with eyesight and vision issues are very important and relevant to the Down syndrome community, and he understands exactly why.
“For some people with Down syndrome, it’s not that they can’t read, they just can’t see,” Von says. “They have a hard time being able to see words on a paper. That’s my life right there. I’ve always had problems with vision. I know what it feels like to have corrective vision, and I know what type of impact that can have on your life.”
Daniel is a big admirer of Von’s distinctive eyewear.
“When we went shopping for a pair of glasses a couple of years ago, Daniel was thrilled to find a pair of iconic thick black-rimmed glasses that looked like ones he’d seen on Von,” Elaine says.
Thanks to role models like Von, Daniel lets nothing stand in his way. He has faced several health problems, including chronic sinus and thyroid issues and sleep apnea, to which individuals with Down syndrome are predisposed. Daniel has benefited from medical care at the Anna and John J. Sie Center for Down Syndrome at Children’s Hospital Colorado, a Global affiliate, and knows how to have an active and healthy lifestyle. Daniel continues to pursue activities he loves, including swimming on a local rec team and playing Ultimate Frisbee and basketball on his middle-school team.
ADVOCATES FOR GLOBAL
The Walshe family became part of the Global family in 2010. Daniel met the Global staff and many new friends through medical visits and various Global events and programs.
“Global has been a tremendous support to Daniel, both socially and medically,” says Elaine. “The amount of Down syndrome resources they provide and access to specialists is incredible.”
“When we had Daniel, we were piecemealing together what medical areas were important and which doctors we should go see, just within different moms’ groups,” Elaine continues.
She adds, “Now you can go to the Sie C enter, and they will assess y our child and say, ‘Go see this specialist and that ther apist, and here’s what you need to do.’ It’s a one-stop shop, and they schedule the appointments for us. It’s been a life-changer.”
With access to great health care, Daniel has been able to participate in a variety of
Global’s Dare to Play programs, improving on his skills in soccer, football, dance, tennis, and more.
“It’s been an opportunity to meet other kids who have Down syndrome who have similar
interests,” Elaine says. “Without those programs, he probably wouldn’t have met all the wonderful friends he has.”
Daniel was also a model in Global’s 2014 Be Beautiful Be Yourself Fashion Show,
and the family continues to at tend the event every year. At the 2018 Be Beautiful Be Yourself Fashion Show, Daniel got to witness one of his heroes, Von, escort Global Ambassador DeOndra Dixon, down the runway. With encouragement from Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx, Von even put his gold suit with a blue floral pattern up for live auction. To the audience’s delight, then-Broncos quarterback Case Keenum purchased the jacket. The funds will underwrite important research and medical care for people with Down syndrome.
LOOKING FORWARD TO WHAT’S NEXT
A successful soon-to-be eighth grader who loves football stats and U.S. presidential history, Daniel is already thinking about starting high school. His parents anticipate he will go to college, enter the workforce, and enjoy an independent adult life. And Daniel has an even bigger goal — he wants to become a police officer.
“People with Down syndrome can do pretty much what they have the opportunity to do,” Elaine says.
As for Von, he is full of optimism as he prepares for his ninth NFL season
with the Broncos and a new head coach. He may be focused on the future, but he still reflects fondly on the Be Beautiful Be Yourself Fashion Show, where his life became a little richer.
“There is just so much love [from people with Down syndrome],” Von says. “I gave so many hugs that night. I walk into our facility every day with my teammates, and don’t even hug those guys, but every single person [at the fashion show] gave so much love. It was amazing.”
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