‘I Just Am’ Against the odds: Scoring a victory over Down syndrome
By: Alex Zener
December 5, 2008
Photo by David Stone

Depending on where you live, you may have a celebrity in your neighborhood. He’s rubbed elbows with such notables as David Hasselhoff, Rob Lowe, Carl Lewis and the BlackEyed Peas, including one of his favorites, Fergie.

He counts Chris Burke, from ABC’s Life Goes On, and Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of the international Special Olympics, as special friends.

He’s also co-authored two books that have been translated into Romanian and French and sold in every U.S. state and 12 countries.

And he’s the winner of several Olympic medals, including one particularly treasured honor—a Special Olympic Gold Medal from the 2003 Special Olympic Summer World Games held in Dublin, Ireland.

Meet Bryan Lambke, who by now you’ve figured out is one exceptional young man.
Bryan was born with Down syndrome, a disability that affects approximately one in every 900 live births, a little over 27 years ago.

But that never stopped his family, including father Tom, mother Karen and sister Shauna, from standing in the way of his living life to its fullest.

It was because they realized from the beginning, said dad Tom, that Bryan was more like other children than he was different.

Bryan, who graduated from Corona del Sol High School in 2001, is an avid sports enthusiast, holds down two jobs and continues to be involved in Special Olympics, an organization he has been part of since he was eight.

In fact, it was his participation in the first summer Special Olympics Games ever held outside the U.S. that led to his first book, Spirit, Courage and Resolve, which  Bryan wrote with his father about his journey to become an international Special Olympics gold medal winner.

They had been partners in the unified bowling event and brought home the gold
“We had so much fun and had so many stories,” said Tom Lambke, “that I decided it was time to fulfill a lifelong dream of writing a book.”

Ten months later they had generated a manuscript, title and cover but had no idea how to get their book published. Luckily someone told them about Kyrene Corridor publisher Linda Radke and her Five Star Publications, and it was Radke who helped them self-publish the book that is now available in paperback through Amazon.com or online at www.fivestarpublications.com or www.spiritcourageresolve.com.

“The Lambke family is an amazing family that is involved in so many useful causes,” said Radke.

“They support the Special Olympics throughout the year.”

It truly is a family affair, said Tom. “Our entire family continues to be involved with the Special Olympics because Bryan still competes in bowling, swimming, basketball and kayaking.

“Matter of fact, all four of us participated in Special Olympics Arizona, the first ever triathlon, which was held in August. We helped over 150 others raise $55,000 for the Special Olympics.”

Family members also recently participated in their fourth Best Buddies Bike Challenge at the Hearst Castle in coastal California, where they helped raise more than $3 million.

Somehow, members of the family still find time to work and carry out their daily lives. It appears, though, that being around Bry, as they call him, has had an influence on the family’s career choices, too.

“Because of Bryan, I have worked in special-ed for the Tempe Union High School District as a para-professional for the past four years,” said Tom. “Our daughter Shauna is in her third year as a para-professional in special-ed at Mountain Pointe High School in Ahwatukee.”

Tom also works as a sports official but took time to collaborate on a second book with Bryan called I Just Am . . . a Story of Down Syndrome Awareness and Tolerance.
“Bryan and I realized we had more to tell, so we decided to write a second book together,” said Tom.

“This time we wanted to tell the world how Bryan perceives his disability and at the same time educate the world about DS.”

Tom said that when Bryan was born and diagnosed with Down syndrome 27 years ago, the condition had been “shrouded in fear and darkness.” Tom and his wife Karen could find only limited information about DS because there was no Internet then and the library contained only a couple of doctor-researched books that didn’t make much sense to them.

“Basically, Karen and I had to learn about DS on our own and educate those around us,” he said.

In the book, Bryan invites readers into his world, where he lets them know what his life is like. It’s important to him that people realize that someone with DS just has a disability and their life is pretty similar to theirs.

“I have a disability; it is not my fault. I just am,” he says, hence, the name of his book.
I Just Am contains plenty of photos of Bryan and his friends, along with an abundance of facts about DS, including the latest research findings.

For instance, a number of non-experts understand that DS is the most common chromosomal abnormality. What they don’t always know is that individuals with DS are lifelong learners and acquire new skills and talents when offered a variety of life experiences and opportunities.

“Just like their peers, they attend school, develop friendships, maintain jobs, participate in important personal decisions and make positive contributions to the community,” said Tom.
“People with Down syndrome are more like their non-disabled peers than they are different, and they deserve the same opportunities.”

The Lambkes have made sure that Bryan has had the same experiences and opportunities as his non-disabled peers. In fact, some may argue that Bryan and Tom’s books have presented them with more opportunities.

In addition to participating in Special Olympics and Best Buddies, both have been invited to talk at schools and other events about DS. In addition, numerous publications, locally and nationally, have carried stories about Bryan, Tom and their books.

While the recognition is valuable to the Lambkes’ efforts to increase awareness about Down syndrome, they say their main reward is what Bry has brought to their lives.
“Going to rock concerts with Bry and hearing him sing and laugh has brought so much joy to our lives,” said Tom.

“Words cannot express how wonderful it is to watch him learn, hear him talk about girls, observe his competitive streak in the Special Olympics, and witness him maturing into the well-mannered, happy, young man he has become.”

So what is next for the Lambkes? In addition to setting his sights on winning a gold medal in kayaking at the 2011 Special Olympics World Games in Greece, Bryan would like to live on his own someday.

“Bryan is pretty content listening to rock and roll, attending concerts, going to dances, attending life-skills classes, working at the Chandler AMF Bowling Center and cheering for his Cubs,” said Tom. “But, like most young men, he would love to have a real girlfriend.”
Tom and Bryan are also thinking about their next book. You can find out more about Bryan, Tom and their books at www.spiritcourageresolve.com and www.ijustam.org.

The latest research and information about Down syndrome can be found from the National Association of Down Syndrome website located at http://www.nads.org/index.html.




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