Two local teens with Down syndrome recently made their Big Apple debut on a big screen in Times Square, and their life story together is worthy of the Great White Way
Saris Marie Garcia of Altamonte and David Matthew Cowan of Lake Mary first met in an Orlando-area speech-therapy class when they were three and four years old, respectively. Their moms, Wanda Cruz and Marilyn Cowan, met at that time, too, and found they had a lot in common. Both are originally from Puerto Rico, and both have children – Saris and David – with Down syndrome.
Friendship blossomed between the kids and their moms, but David and his parents moved to Miami in 2004. The families lost touch, but fate was about to intervene. Saris’s dad got a job in Miami, too, and the family moved later that year, as well.
To the surprise of all involved, both kids ended up in the same school, the Marian Center School, an educational facility for children with special intellectual needs. Even more remarkable, both families eventually moved back to Seminole County for separate job relocations in 2006 and 2008. By this time, an unbreakable bond between the families was forged.
Marilyn calls the kids inseparable. “They have a real connection,” she says.
Fast-forward more than a decade later. A photo of Saris and David – who are now a devoted couple – was recently selected to be featured in a National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) video shown in New York City’s Times Square. The NDSS video presentation kicked off National Down Syndrome Awareness Month in October and the NDSS Buddy Walk in New York City, a Down syndrome public-awareness event. The families traveled to the Big Apple together to see the video unveiling on September 14.
“They were jumping up and down when they saw their image pop up on the big screen in Times Square,” says Marilyn of the teens.
Manhattan passersby also began to cheer when they realized that the couple on the screen was there on the street with them.
Saris, David, and their moms were all wearing T-shirts with the featured photo on them, and the image has made the rounds on social media.
“We had people saying, ‘We follow them on Instagram!’” says Marilyn.
Even before the Times Square video unveiling, Saris and David were celebrities.
Saris, a junior-varsity cheerleader at Lake Brantley High School, also models in fashion shows in Orlando, Tampa, and Puerto Rico.
“Saris loves gowns,” says mom Wanda. “She has a priceless smile when she gets to the end of a runway.”
Saris’s dream is to eventually model in Paris.
David is into music, says Marilyn, especially the drums. A senior at Seminole High School, David wants to go to the University of Central Florida where he has quite the connection (see sidebar).
Both Saris and David are active in Seminole County Special Olympics. David has recently added powerlifting to his repertoire, and he has competed in swimming, weightlifting, tennis, and surfing.
Saris has also competed in swimming as well as stand-up paddleboarding, surfing, gymnastics, equestrian events, and cheerleading.
Getting to all these events and managing Saris and David’s activities isn’t always easy, but the working moms help each other with transportation and other logistics.
The families’ involvement in local chapters of NDSS and the Down Syndrome Foundation of Florida has provided a base of essential resources. Both organizations offer events and outings that allow Saris and David to build their independence.
David proposed to Saris a few years ago, but the couple is taking a long view on their star-crossed relationship. They say they are getting married in 10 years.
When it comes to love, who’s counting?
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