Sheila sat on her front porch, waiting for the yellow bus to bring her younger brother, Danny, home from school. He liked her to be waiting for him, and he always greeted her with a sunny smile and an enthusiastic hug. Sheila’s friends Nancy and Paulette waited with her.
“I don’t know why you spend so much time with your little brother. Mine is just a pest,” Nancy complained.
“Mine too. But he thinks I’m the pest,” added Paulette.
Sheila knew that her friends didn’t understand her feelings for Danny—why they were best friends even though he had just turned eight and she was almost eleven.
“Well,” Sheila explained, “my brother is special.”
Sheila had been too young to remember when her mother and father first brought Danny home from the hospital. However, when she was older, they explained to her that Danny had a form of retardation called Down’s syndrome. They told her that that was why his eyes slanted slightly upward.
“But Danny still looks a lot like me,” she told them.
And she was right. But unlike her, Danny had difficulty learning, so he went to a special school.
When the bus came to a stop, Danny emerged, but without his usual smile. Instead, he walked slowly, his chin pressed unhappily to his chest.
“Danny, what’s wrong?” Sheila asked.
“They laugh at me,” he cried.
“Who? Who laughs at you?”
“The b-big b-b-boys,” he stammered.
Sheila knew immediately who the “big boys” were. A group of them lived nearby, and her friend Brad was one of them.
“Well, don’t pay any attention to them, Danny. They don’t know how special you are,” Sheila said comfortingly.
As they walked toward the house, something poking out of Danny’s book bag caught her eye. It was an announcement that Danny would be in the Special Olympics in six weeks. He would compete in the fifty-yard dash and the standing long jump. Her eyes sparkled at the prospect, and she grabbed her brother’s hand. “Danny, my boy, we have work to do!”
Upstairs in her closet, Sheila sorted through two cardboard boxes filled with old toys until she found what she was looking for—a cap gun and two boxes of caps. Out to the yard she and her brother flew.
Last year’s garden plot stretched before them. They raked and turned over the soil until it was fine and cushiony. Then she and Danny raided the sandbox with their shovels and spread a thick layer of sand over the soft earth. A length of duct tape marked the jumping line. Sheila and Danny slapped each other’s hands on a job well done. On the sidewalk, Danny crouched over one end of a measuring tape. Sheila, pulling the tape, measured off fifty yards and marked it with another piece of duct tape. “There!” Then she marked the sidewalk where Danny was with a third piece of tape.
After warm-ups, Danny waited poised at the starting line.
“On your mark, get set, …”
Bang! the cap gun exploded, and Danny took off for the tape at the other end.
“Good job!” Sheila told him.
After a few more sprint trials, Danny went over and stood with his toes against the silver tape bordering Sheila’s old garden.
“Jump to me,” she called.
Danny swung his arms back and forth, bent his knees, then leaped forward.
Over and over, he practiced running and jumping. Sheila kept a chart to show Danny’s progress. Sometimes their older brothers, Bob and Pat, and Mom and Dad would help. But sometimes they had unwelcome visitors—Brad and his friends. “How ya doin’, coach?” they’d call derisively to Sheila. “Trying for a world’s record?”
“Ignore them, Danny,” Sheila told him. “They’re not bad guys—they just don’t understand how special you are. Now forget them and jump to me.”
“I can’t,” Danny would whimper, then sit on the ground.
“You can’t quit just because of them. There will always be people like that around.”
“No!” Danny would refuse and fold his arms stubbornly across his chest.
“Then quit, but don’t expect me to stand around watching you feeling sorry for yourself,” Sheila told him, exasperated.
The four boys would snicker. “You lose, coach,” one would yell as they’d leave.
But Danny worked hard, and his chart reflected his improvement.
The day of the meet finally arrived. Bob and Pat had volunteered to help the officials take times and measurements at the meet. Sheila stayed with Danny while he waited for his events.
“Fifty-yard dash for boys eight to ten!” a voice boomed over the loudspeaker.
“That’s you, Dan!” Sheila said. “I’ll be rooting for you.” She squeezed his hand, then took her place behind the finish line.
“Runners, take your marks, get set, …”
Bang! went the starting gun. Danny ran his fastest. He looked for Sheila behind the finish line. One runner finished, then two, then three. Danny ran across the line and into Sheila’s arms.
“Good job, Danny. You’ll get a ribbon.”
After lunch a voice over the loudspeaker announced: “Standing long jump for boys eight to ten.”
As they hurried to the jumping pit, Sheila felt Danny tug on her arm. “Look.” Danny pointed to four familiar figures.
“Brad!” Sheila cried. “And his buddies. How could they!”
As the four approached, Sheila put her arm around Danny’s shoulder.
“C’mon, Danny, it’s time for your jump,” she coaxed, but he refused to budge.
“What’s the matter, coach—that kid giving you trouble?” Brad teased.
“Leave us alone, Brad. Please, Danny, come with me. The jumping is almost over.”
“I can’t,” Danny insisted.
Sheila looked sternly at her little brother. “Don’t quit on me now. I’ve told you that you’re special. You can do it. I’m going to walk over to that jumping pit. You’ll have to decide for yourself what you’re going to do.” She stood up and walked toward the pit.
“Last call for Danny Brooks,” she heard an official say.
“Sheila,” a little voice behind her called.
She turned to see Danny on the jumping line, and the four boys flanking the pit. Sheila stood at the far end. “To me, Dan—jump to me,” she called.
Danny kept his eyes on Sheila. His arms swung back and forth. His short legs bent, then sprung into the air.
“The winner!” someone yelled.
“You’ve won the gold medal, son,” the official with the tape measure said as he patted Danny’s shoulder.
“Not bad, kid,” Brad said and grinned. He turned to Sheila. “See you in school, coach.” And off he went with his buddies.
A woman placed the medal around Danny’s neck. Mom and Dad took pictures, and Bob and Pat patted him on the back. When Sheila bent down to hug her little brother, Danny took off his medal and put it around her neck. “Here, Sheila,” he said. “This is for you.”
“But why, Danny?” she asked.
“Because you’re my best friend,” he said. “And because you’re special.”