By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
Last month, I wrote a story about Madeline Stuart, who is breaking through barriers by becoming the first professional adult model with Down syndrome. Writing about her seemed natural; it is easy to write about things you care about.
Stuart is from Australia, but my reason for caring about her story hits a lot closer to home. This reason is Kameryn Ingels, the daughter of family friends.
I was 12 years old when Kameryn was born. I remember the look on her father Chad’s face as he showed us a picture of her for the first time. While clearly in love with his new daughter, he also possessed a look of concern. Though he and his wife, Tammy, were not yet 30 years old, they had given birth to a daughter with Down syndrome. Due to the low risk at their age of having a child with Down syndrome, the diagnosis was unexpected. Chad and Tammy didn’t know what the future would hold for their baby girl. At the very least, they wondered if she would be happy. They prayed to God for guidance.
Kameryn is now 17 years old, attending public high school in northeast Iowa and excelling. She is a dancer and a varsity cheerleader. Though traditional curriculum is challenging for Kameryn, she works hard to earn good grades and was recently inducted into the National Honor Society. Like most kids her age, she is active on Facebook and Instagram and enjoys going to school dances. She is an altar server at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Fayette, Iowa.
Reflecting on the feelings she had when Kameryn was born, her mother said, “What I wish I knew when she was born was that she would be able to accomplish at least as much as anyone else and perhaps even more, given the obstacles she has needed to overcome in order to succeed.”
When Kameryn was young, Chad and Tammy didn’t have a clear idea of what success meant for a child with Down syndrome. Setting goals with their older son, Colton, who was born without special needs, came naturally, but what about Kameryn? Eventually, Chad and Tammy decided to follow the sentiment of one of Tammy’s favorite quotes: “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”
Tammy said, “I had to come to terms with the balance of accepting the reality of the situation and still setting expectations high. I decided I would rather over-estimate than under-estimate what might be, knowing that we could never be disappointed in who she became and what she could do. … She definitely has reached the stars and we have been very pleased with her participation in any activity that we may have ever hoped for any child.”
They feel blessed to be part of a small community — Maynard, Iowa, population 450 — that has walked alongside the Ingels family during their journey, working to make sure Kameryn is included at school and play. Sometimes she gets teased — which she says hurts a lot — but she also has friends who stick up for her.
She also has an opportunity to be with youths like her by participating in the University of Northern Iowa Sparkles cheerleading team — where she is a flyer — and winning blue ribbons in the Special Olympics every year.
As she nears adulthood, Kameryn now sets goals for herself. She would like to continue getting good grades in school. She endeavors to be a good person — she is particularly close to her younger brother Cullen, who also has Down syndrome, and enjoys caring for him. “He’s so cute!” she often exclaims on social media. She also hopes to be able to improve her social skills so that people understand her more clearly.
Her ultimate goal is to graduate from college and become a preschool teacher. Currently, she is looking at Iowa colleges that have programs for persons with special needs and already has a few favorites.
Tammy admits that seeing her daughter go off to college, especially after all Kameryn has accomplished to get there, will be bittersweet.
Kameryn’s response? Typical of just about any teen about to leave the nest. “Don’t worry mom, you can visit me. I’ll try to keep my room neat.”
(Editor’s note: Lindsay Steele is a reporter for The Catholic Messenger. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (563) 888-4248.)