Twila Patterson's book ``Climbing the Mountains'' is available through Crossbooks at http://bookstore.crossbooks.com/Products/SKU-000486478/Climbing-the-Mountains.aspx and on Amazon.
Because 14-year-old Tanner Patterson and his sister Tiana, 11, have some severe bipolar mental illnesses, the first reaction for most people is they can't play organized sports. They won't fit in, and there would be very little benefit, anyway because they'd just hold everyone else back.
There was already a bad experience once with a baseball league where the other players didn't accept Tanner and then neither did the parents when the team was stuck in a losing streak. He couldn't pay attention in the field or hit the ball, so it was pretty much a waste of time, most people believed.
They didn't need extra aggravation so Troy and Twila Patterson kept their kids out of sports for a while. Life was already a struggle. Because Troy and Twila were told they would be unable to have children, Tanner and Tiana were adopted. Later, the Pattersons discovered both birth parents had severe problems, and so would their children. By then, they were already their kids.
Then, shockingly, they became pregnant and welcomed Tessa, who was born three months early and proved to be a 2-pound miracle. She's now 8 and has a learning disability of her own but still follows her big brother and big sister everywhere.
All their lives the Patterson kids have been told what they can't do or what no one expects them to be able to do. They were expected to fail, especially at sports. They should just accept it and move on.
But then a sports opportunity came back to the family.
``We took a couple of years off where we didn't do any sports, but then we heard about Wildcat,'' Twila said. ``We thought, for $8 for a T-shirt and a hat, I'll try it. Even if it lasts one day, it was worth the $8.''
Tanner immediately loved it, and he improved. His parents said it was the best thing that ever happened to the family which now probably has 10 hats and 20 shirts in the closet.
Last year, surrounded by her family, Twila Patterson spoke at Wildcat's annual staff appreciation banquet, telling them about their lives and her book ``Climbing the Mountains.'' You'd expect most people to get very emotional hearing such a story, but Tanner held up a poster with ``Hey'' written on it, and Tiana had one with ``Batter.'' After they raised the cards to encourage the staff to yell, ``Hey, batter!'' Tessa held up hers with ``Swing!''
After the Wildcat experience, the Pattersons tried Special Olympics, and now the family goes to the state meet every year. It's the one place the parents feel safe, like they don't have to be on their guard where their kids aren't getting funny looks and they aren't always getting stares that ask, ``Why don't you control your kids?'' Sometimes after incidents have have become normal to them, on their way out of restaurants the Pattersons usually drop off postcards that say ``Please accept us, we are like everybody else... only different.''
Recently, Tanner and Tiana won gold medals in the 50-meter run, the softball throw and the standing long jump. This is where the kids stood out in the right way. They are accepted and wanted.
``The problem is you try things, and what happens when the kids are younger, if they aren't very good, it's no big deal and people tolerate them,'' Special Olympics Sports Coordinator for Allen County Donna Hazelett said. ``As they get older, it's less accepting and the people who run these programs are not as interested in taking the time to help kids like this.''
This fall, Tanner is going to become part of a traveling Special Olympics basketball team.
``It gets them involved in things that they feel other kids are involved in and it teaches them working together,'' said Maple Creek Middle School Special Education teacher Michele Scott. ``Tanner just lives for it. He'll tell me about the Special Olympics things weeks ahead of time. It just makes him happier, and when a person is happier and feels better about themselves, everything is easier.''
Last year Tessa decided she wanted to try swimming, so the Pattersons joined the Pine Valley Swim Team. She's pretty good, but her siblings make sure to have fun every day. Coach Austin Del Priore is wonderful, and the kids like working hard as part of a team, doing their best and seeing gradual improvement. It seems they are always cheering on their teammates.
The Pattersons may not win any medals or ribbons at this weekend's City Swim Meet, but they'll be just as excited for any of their teammates who do.
The story might end there and everyone would be happy, and feel good about the situation, but it doesn't. That would be too easy for the Pattersons.
About three years ago, Twila Patterson was diagnosed with a very rare eye disease which is stealing her sight. It's non-curable. Whenever she goes to swimming meets or Special Olympic events, one of her kids sits beside her and tells her what their siblings are doing so she can scream as loud as possible.
``No one knows what I'm going through, but that's OK,'' she said. ``I want to be the normal super mom and yell and my kids are helping me do that. I'm glad I got to see them do sports before I started to lose my vision because I can picture them now. I'm a screamer, so I hope the one kid that is sitting beside me is telling the truth because I'd be so embarrassed if I'm yelling for the wrong kid.''
But would she, really? No way.
``I guess whenever we sit at a sports event and look at our kids...'' Twila said. ``We just sit there and think we must be doing something right because we are so proud. Most parents just take it for granted, but to us, we're like, `Those are our kids!' They have had to go through so many obstacles. I just can't believe it.''
After being told for so long all the things they can't do in sports, the Patterson kids have started to learn what they can do because of athletics. And there's an awful lot.
``It's just amazing that they are here,'' Troy said. ``Where would they have been if they weren't adopted? And now they can go play sports and they can just be kids.''
Shame on them for not treating their kids as if they are handicapped.