By Melanie Barrios
Being a big sister to three younger siblings is a huge responsibility that Ashley Singleton takes seriously. She knows the importance of setting the best example, so it is no wonder her siblings love her to the moon and back.
Ashley was born with Down syndrome, but there’s no difference between her and her siblings. In fact, there is no difference between her and many people. As Ashley likes to tell people, Down syndrome is just one part of who she is. She and her mom, Kim Singleton are on a mission to educate people about Down syndrome and are more than happy to provide information about the topic to help rid false assumptions.
“One thing people say all the time is that they’re [people with Down syndrome] always happy. That’s not true. Ashley has emotions just like everybody else, but Down syndrome is just one part of who she is. She also has blonde hair, so she’s more alike than she is different. You need to give them as much credit in the whole world because they do so much if given the opportunity,” states Kim Singleton.
There have been a few challenges along the way, but Kim likes to look back at all the things Ashley has accomplished and how well she has set goals to achieve things that some people may believe those with Down syndrome cannot do.
“She’s happy. She’s healthy. Don’t know it any other way,” states Kim speaking on the challenges of raising a child with Down syndrome.
Special Olympics has provided many opportunities for Ashley to thrive, succeed, and shine at what she does best in sports! Ashley began her journey in Special Olympics when she was eight years old after her parents were convinced to attend a Special Olympics event. There, the family got a glimpse of the inclusion the organization offered to the community, and they were hooked. Ashley has tried and competed in various sports during her time as a Special Olympics athlete, but swimming holds her heart. In fact, Kim shared that Ashley could swim before she could walk, and her family enjoys seeing her compete.
“My favorite part is that she can do the same sports or compete at the same things that she enjoys as everybody else at a level that is competitive for her and non-threatening, and it’s with friends. She has the same joy that everybody else gets,” Kim explains.
Ashley’s secret to success is staying focused and always trying her best. Her favorite thing about herself is that she is kind and helpful. She is a team player first, and one can catch her on the sidelines cheering on her teammates after she is done with her competitions. Apart from swimming, cheering on her friends can be categorized as her favorite part of being an athlete.
“I have a really good group of friends through Special Olympics. It’s a second family,” Ashley states.
Ashley credits her family for their continued support in helping her achieve her goals. Whether it is driving her to practice, cheering her on at competitions, or helping her unwind by attending a sporting event with her (she’s a vast Dodgers and Kings fan), Ashley is grateful for her family always being there. Her family is very much involved in Special Olympics and often volunteers their time to the organization. Her brother, NFL player Alex Singleton, has volunteered with Special Olympics since he was sixteen and believes the organization is one of the most incredible things. He shared that Ashley inspires him to be a better athlete and a better person.
“My older sister is one of my best friends. She tries harder than anyone I know. She never gives up, and she is by far the best athlete in our family. To know Ashley is to love her,” Alex states.
Ashley is Alex’s biggest supporter and attends his games as often as she can, being the loudest cheerleader in the stands and giving her little brother tips to improve his game.
As Ashley’s journey in Special Olympics continues, so will her family’s. Over time, Ashley and her family hope more opportunities will become available in communities, not just for people with Down syndrome but with any disabilities. The family urges people to donate to their local Special Olympics branches to help fund programs in their communities and to attend Special Olympics events to get to know the athletes. They want others to do the research and to stop relying on false information for first impressions.
Ashley will continue swimming in Special Olympics, but she hopes to branch out and try different sports or possibly become a volunteer coach. Her brother and friends can attest to Ashley’s great coaching abilities. No matter what is next, Ashley’s future is only getting brighter.