A competition without losers

Down’s syndrome is a genetic defect. The body muscles of those affected tend to be flabby, they are often more susceptible to infections and tend to have heart defects. Sport plays an important role in her development. In Frankfurt am Main, 550 participants with Down syndrome are gathering today for a sports festival.

When the horse "Lili" trots around the corner on the farm in the Frankfurt district of Oberrad, Meryem jumps off the wooden bench and beams all over her face. The six-year-old rushes off, climbs a stepladder and stretches out her arms impatiently. With red cheeks she rides together with her riding instructor towards the paddock. At first glance, the only way to tell that Meryem is a little different is by her eyes. She has trisomy 21, better known as Down syndrome. The girl loves riding, dancing, running and climbing. That’s why she definitely wants to take part in the Down’s Sports Festival in Frankfurt am Main.According to the organizers, almost 550 participants with Down’s syndrome have registered for the competition. The focus is on children under the age of eleven, but there is no upper limit, says Alexandra Mest of the organizing team. Four participants each compete in running, jumping and throwing events. Table tennis and judo are also on the program. "It’s not so important who finishes first," Mest points out. Each participant goes home with a medal. Down syndrome is a genetic defect. The body muscles of those affected tend to be flabby, they are often more susceptible to infections and tend to have heart defects. Sports play an important role in her development, says Michelle Diehl of the German Down Syndrome Infocenter. The more they move, the better their muscle tie becomes. "People with Down syndrome can do great athletic things," she points out. Sport, as a regular hobby, also fulfills an important social function, she adds. The first time Meryem took part in the Sportsmen’s Festival, she was just under two years old and still walking by her father’s hand. Wearing a T-shirt that was much too big and holding a red balloon, the little girl walked into the hall. "I have to cry every time the athletes move in," says their mother Margot Gurbuz. So many children with disabilities come together at the festival, the atmosphere is touching. "Nobody looks funny," she explains. This is often different in everyday life. "Many people are afraid of people with disabilities, no matter what kind," Gurbuz reports. People don’t know how to deal with it, she says. Meryem still doesn’t care whether she plays with children with or without Down syndrome. The main thing is that it goes according to their stubbornness. The sports festival is especially great for the parents, says Gurbuz. While the children played, they easily got into conversation. Finally, they could be "normal" and not stand out. It’s also nice that each child is rewarded for his or her performance. "This year, Meryem is getting her fifth medal, which is something," says the mother. Last time, she took her certificate to kindergarten the next day and proudly showed it to everyone. Her daughter is tolerated by the other boys and girls, but they notice the difference. Children with Down syndrome usually develop much more slowly, Meryem still has deficits in speech. But when it comes to climbing and playing, Gurbuz says she easily beats the other children. From the beginning, Meryem has done sports, first physiotherapy, then baby swimming. To this day, her mother practices with her every day, they throw balls at each other and romp on the playground. "I want an independent daughter," emphasizes Gurbuz. She would like Meryem to have a boyfriend someday and maybe even have children. Meryem’s mother says she has to be stronger than others because she always encounters people with prejudices in her life. When the six-year-old returns to the riding stable on the horse’s back, she scrunches up her face and squints her eyes. She knows exactly what she wants: "Continue riding."

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