TV star with Down syndrome who inspired Concord mom to visit city Saturday

  • Kelly Anderson of Concord and her 13-month-old son Jack. Courtesy

  • 13-month-old Jack Anderson of Concord. KELLY ANDERSON—Courtesy

Monitor columnist
Published: 9/19/2019 5:31:37 PM

Once, Kelly Anderson of Concord never heard of Born This Way, a reality TV show on the A&E Network starring 35-year-old Rachel Osterbach.

Like Anderson’s 13-month-old son, Jack, Osterbach has Down syndrome, but that extra chromosome has not impeded her ability to carve out an acting career and inspire others to tap into their potential.

Osterbach will bring her story to Concord on Saturday, the guest of honor at something called the Buddy Walk, an annual event that brings awareness to a condition that some see as a roadblock to success.

People like Osterbach and now Anderson know better. They know how far an individual can go with this genetic disorder, and this will be Osterbach’s message when she addresses participants during the opening ceremony at 11 a.m. at the Bektash Shriners building on Pembroke Road.

A three-kilometer walk will follow. Lunch will be served, a DJ will play tunes and Osterbach will mingle with families for the duration of the event.

“I hope that I can help everyone in the state realize all the amazing things that people with Down syndrome can do,” Osterbach said in a press release.

Anderson began watching and listening to Osterbach shortly after Jack was born, once her brother told her about a show that featured a woman with Down syndrome.

“He told me to watch it and I had never heard of it,” Anderson told me. “It was awesome and I started watching it. I was concerned that Down syndrome was about what they can’t do, but the shows describes what they can do instead.”

Like be a star on a reality TV show. Or become a rapper. Or open a business.

All of which opened Anderson’s eyes, who embraced the normalcy depicted in the show. Young adults and teens with Down syndrome go on dates, go to dances, fall in love.

“Sure they need additional assistance, but they can do these things,” Anderson said. “It gave me hope in an emotional way. My husband said not to put (Jack) in a box, let him do what he’s going to do and be who he’s going to be. We didn’t know anything about Down syndrome at the time.”

Anderson and her husband moved here three years ago from upstate New York. He’s now an ROTC instructor at Southern New Hampshire University. They already had two kids at the time, Ava, now seven, and Gavin, 10.

Jack came along in August of last year. The couple knew there was a possibility their baby would have this genetic disorder after a blood test was taken, but they chose to avoid diagnostic testing that would have confirmed Jack’s condition.

What was the point, Anderson asked?

“We waited until he was born to find out,” she said. “It didn’t make any difference to us. We couldn’t do anything about it no matter what.”

Since Jack’s birth, a whole new world has opened for the Andersons, with help from the New Hampshire Down Syndrome Association, which is sponsoring Saturday’s festivities.

They also received help from their new neighbors in Concord, who introduced them to friends with children who had Down syndrome.

“The community showed a lot of support,” Anderson said. “They welcomed me and made me feel like I wasn’t alone and they understood what I went through and they helped me know that it’s going to be okay.”

Marya Pongrace, who also loves Osterbach’s show, echoed Anderson’s thoughts. Her son, Wyatt, is 18 months old and has Down’s syndrome. The family walked in the event last year and they’ll be back again Saturday.

“An amazing experience,” said Pongrace, who lives in Portsmouth. “We met tons of other families, and they probably will be close friends forever. In fact, it’s not probably; they will be our friends forever.”

Her husband, Robby, carried Wyatt across the finish line last year at the New York City Marathon, a scene that went viral and was written about in Runner’s World.

Since then, Wyatt has developed a love for books, his dog, the playground and music.

“Yes, he does have Down syndrome, but that does not define him,” Pongrace wrote in an email to me. “He is just like any other toddler his age, just with some special needs that we work hard to address. We like to say there is magic in that extra chromosome.”

Anderson agrees, adding that while Osterbach has inspired her, Jack has inspired his older siblings.

“The show teaches us there’s nothing to be afraid of,” Anderson said. “Gavin is the protector, and he was worried kids would be mean to his brother. It teaches the kids to be more compassionate because their brother will have some differences.

“It’s important for them to realize he will learn. It might be slower, but they know he will be able to do that.”

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