Megan Bomgaars & Kenneth Faried Conquering Challenges on the Road to Fame | Global Down Syndrome Foundation

Megan Bomgaars & Kenneth Faried Conquering Challenges on the Road to Fame

From Down Syndrome World 2016 Winter Issue

Global celebrates one of our favorite cover story features from 2016! Since then, the now Emmy-award winning Megan Bomgaars continues to rise in fame and Kenneth Faried still heating up the basketball court, now playing for the Brooklyn Nets.

Megan Bomgaars, one of the stars of A&E’s hit reality show Born this way, and Denver Nuggets’ power forward Kenneth Faried confronted their own unique challenges growing up. Today, both are using their wildly different talents and abilities to get one message across — even when life Isn’t easy, determination can make it rewarding.

AT FIRST GLANCE, the average person wouldn’t think that a bubbly 4-foot-11-inch, 22-year-old self-advocate and budding TV actress has much in common with a 26-year-old, 6-foot-8-inch NBA player. But these two Global Down Syndrome Foundation supporters share two traits: a passion for life and a desire to encourage kids to be their own self-advocates.

“I had a positive attitude and believed in myself in high school,” Bomgaars said. “Nobody should be limited just because they have Down syndrome.”

Added Faried, “Just because kids are different, doesn’t mean they should be picked on. Everyone needs to be treated equally, no matter their color, differences in ability, or anything else.”

Of course, both followed very different paths to arrive at these very similar philosophies.

THE ROAD TO THE SILVER SCREEN

Bomgaars is one of six young adults with Down syndrome chosen to star in Born This Way, the A&E series that offers an intimate look into the lives of young men and women with Down syndrome. She landed the spot after catching the attention of the show’s producers while delivering a keynote address — one of many motivational speeches she delivers each year — at the 2015 National Down Syndrome Congress Annual Convention.

“Being involved in the TV show is important,” the young actress noted. “It changes people’s lives, and I want to share my story with the rest of the world.”

Bomgaars’ story begins with a childhood that was filled with speech, occupational, and physical therapies. In addition to a heart defect and a need for leg braces, she experienced­­ feeding, respiratory, and vision problems as a very young child.

Her mother, Kris, attributes much of Bomgaars’ success in overcoming medical and developmental issues to a team of innovative therapists. Not only did they teach Kris how to continue her daughter’s therapies at home, but they also encouraged her to include Megan in everyday activities. When Bomgaars was 18 months old, Kris enrolled her in a typical childcare program. Interacting with other children her age, Bomgaars learned basic social skills and even sign language.

“That philosophy of inclusion has stuck with us ever since,” Kris said. “Megan has always been determined to do everything that her peers could do and more.”

Bomgaars carried that determination throughout elementary and high school. At age 19, she made the viral YouTube video, Don’t Limit Me, to encourage others to have high expectations for individuals with Down syndrome. A year later, she launched her own line of tie-dyed fashion accessories, called Megology.

At times, Bomgaars’ success even takes her mother by surprise. “I often hear other parents say ‘My kid could never do that,’” Kris said. “When Megan was born with multiple medical challenges and I was feeding her through a tube, I never would have expected in a million years that she would be as strong as she is today. I attribute it to her always raising the bar for herself.”

In 2015, Bomgaars’ feisty spirit earned her a trip to the White House. She and Devon Adelman represented the Global Down Syndrome Foundation as the first students with Down syndrome to be invited to First Lady Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher “Beating the Odds” Summit. The event celebrates young people who have overcome obstacles to enroll in higher education.

“That was a really big deal. It was awesome,” Bomgaars enthused. “And I am beating the odds, right now.”

Bomgaars has had a steady boyfriend, and they’ve talked about getting married, but like most mothers, Kris is concerned they’re too young and wants her to finish college.

“We love each other,” Bomgaars said. “We’ve been together for seven years.” As she mulls her future, Bomgaars attends the University of Colorado, where she’s studying filmmaking during gaps in the show’s production. “I want to make movies that change lives,” she said.

STORY OF A KINDRED SPIRIT

Life through Faried’s lens was a struggle as well, but for different reasons.

“My mother is a lesbian,” Faried said. “Young people whose parents are gay, lesbian, or transgender didn’t always receive the best support at the time, and I eventually had to learn that I couldn’t always get in a fight because some bully had an opinion about my mom.”

The self-described “skinny and long” teenager put his energy into basketball in the hopes it would one day lead to something bigger.

“I believe that if you put your mind and heart into something, you can achieve anything,” Faried added. “My parents always had my back.”

In fact, it was his mother who urged him to leave the environment of gangs, drugs, and violence in their Newark, New Jersey, neighborhood. And he did. In 2007, he started college at Morehead State University, almost 650 miles away in rural eastern Kentucky, where he’d been recruited to play basketball.

His college years were filled with homesickness, which caused his playing to suffer. During his junior year, his mother underwent a kidney transplant, and he became a father for the first time. Nevertheless, true grit and determination paid off. He was named the Ohio Valley Conference’s player of the year in both his junior and senior years, and as a senior, he led the NCAA in scoring, rebounds, blocked shots, and field-goal percentage — all of which contributed to him becoming a first-round draft pick for the NBA in 2011.

“I learned to never give up on something you love,” he said. “Overcoming challenges makes your achievements even more meaningful.”

Faried hasn’t stopped challenging himself during his five years playing for the Denver Nuggets. His public relations manager gave him the nickname “Manimal” because, according to Faried, “I play hard, I’m fearless, I don’t care who the person I’m facing is, and I am going to challenge him.”

In his personal life, however, Faried shows a softer side. Now the father of two daughters, Faried sees himself as someone who should be building bridges and encouraging understanding.

“You never know what challenges other people are experiencing,” he said. “When you encourage others, you are also encouraging yourself, demonstrating that you can make a difference in the world. Megan is the same way — she is a true light in the lives of everyone she meets.

 

28-year-old Kenneth Faried, who now plays for the Brooklyn Nets, is raising a family, and volunteers with Global Down Syndrome Foundation, walking in fashion shows and forming friendships with the kids he meets on the runway. We sat down with him to learn why he’s so passionate about advocating for people with Down syndrome.

Down Syndrome World: Why are you so inspired by children with Down syndrome?
Kenneth Faried: They’re brave, positive, strong individuals who understand how to live in the moment and love unconditionally. Working with these kids brings me joy and inspires me to take on the challenges of life and embrace every opportunity to live life to the fullest.

What do you tell kids to encourage them to pursue their own passions?
Keep a smile on your face. Let it shine brightly for everyone else around you. Never give up and always believe in your ability to overcome and succeed.

What do you wish you could say to children with Down syndrome everywhere?
Remember that you’re beautiful and never be afraid to be yourself. If people are making fun of you or trying to hurt you verbally, ignore them. Don’t let it get you down. Walk around with your head held high. Choose to be a blessing.


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