Olivia Montgomery was whisked away for emergency heart surgery when she was just five days old.
Her mother, Lori, was prepared for the surgery since prenatal tests revealed Olivia had a heart defect. What she wasn’t prepared for was the doctor saying her baby girl had Down syndrome. Through her shock, she heard a statement that changed how she and her husband Tim looked at parenting.
“You will get out of her what you put into her,” she remembers the doctor saying.
Keep her locked away and assume there is no hope, and there will be none. Get her out into the world and challenge both her and society’s ideas about her, and they may be surprised.
“Every time we hit a bump in the road we just thought of that,” she says. “We wanted her to experience other people and for them to experience her. God gave us this wonderful gift and we want to expose her to the things available to her. We didn’t want to keep her in a box.”
There might not be a big enough box to contain Olivia anyway. While she is less than five feet tall, Olivia — now 12 and a fifth-grader at Chamberlin Hill Intermediate School in Findlay — has a personality twice her size. She fits right into a family that is on the go not only with her activities but those of her older brother, Zach.
For the last eight years, Olivia has ice skated with the Gliding Stars of Findlay. Through Special Olympics she has earned medals in skills softball and basketball, has participated in gymnastics, and also painted through Awakening Minds Arts & Athletics. Zach, 14 and an eighth grader at Glenwood Middle School, plays travel soccer for Findlay Soccer Club and also participates in track and field.
There is always a family cheering section at both siblings’ events, but the Montgomery family’s involvement with Olivia’s activities is truly a family affair. Tim Montgomery produces the annual skating show for Gliding Stars, a volunteer job that includes helping to develop a theme and to find music to go along with the skating numbers. Zach volunteers with Special Olympics, and Lori Montgomery volunteers in all the different ways so many moms do.
Olivia’s biggest fan might be her older brother, Zach who helps his sister with small things like breaking a bad habit, and larger things like working on her skills for the Special Olympics. And when Olivia competes, he is one of her loudest cheerleaders.
“She does stuff and she enjoys it, and I like to watch her enjoy it,” he says. “When she lights up, I light up inside. Even though she has a disability, she still deserves the same opportunities other kids have.”
The Montgomerys heard another bit of special needs parenting advice the day Olivia was born — to slow down and enjoy the journey. There will be hurdles and roadblocks, but don’t forget the happiness.
“Sometimes I get to thinking how will she live on her own, but if I do that I miss out on the joy that’s going on right now at age 12,” says Lori. “She’s reading, and making friends. If I look past that, I miss it.” They also didn’t anticipate how life with Olivia would change them for the better.
“Zach is such a compassionate person, and I attribute that to her,” says Lori. “She made me a stronger mom, and she made my husband a more patient person. She’s had a major influence on all of us.”