Doctors focused on what he couldn’t do. Blake showed them what he could.
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A&E Born This Way

When Blake Pyron was born in 1996, there was almost no indication that he had Down syndrome.

He was beautiful, gurgly, and perfect, according to his mom — everything a newborn baby should be. But, there was one thing that gave the nurses pause: Blake’s big toe and his second toe were a little too wide. It's a symptom of Down syndrome, something 25-year-old Mary Ann and her 27-year-old husband never considered a possibility.

Suddenly their beautiful son, who had a world of possibilities before him a few days before, was being told exclusively about his limitations.


Blake and his mom, Mary Ann. All images via Blake's Snow Shack, used with permission.

Today, there's a wealth of information that can help parents navigate raising a child with Down syndrome. That wasn't the case in 1996.

At that time, there weren't blogs or online networks for parents of children with Down syndrome. When Mary Ann went to the local bookstore, she found a tiny section filled with negative, depressing stories. Doctors and nurses kept telling her about all the challenges she'd face raising Blake along with all the things he'd never do — like go to school or hold a job.

There's nothing wrong with a life that doesn't include those things, but Mary Ann didn't want to make assumptions about what Blake's life could and could not include.

"When Blake was two weeks old, I made a promise to him that he would never be limited," Mary Ann told Upworthy. "I sat in a mall and told him 'I will never keep you from the world.'"

She kept that promise to Blake all through school.

Thanks to the support of his parents and his community, Blake had a teenage experience just like everyone else's — football, prom, a part-time job at a local BBQ joint.

Blake and his girlfriend, ready for prom.

Blake is mostly nonverbal and prefers to communicate in other ways like gestures and writing. According to Mary Ann, he's never had a problem sharing how he feels, what he needs, or what he wants. As for what he wants, that's simple. He wants to work.

But shortly after graduation, Blake found out the restaurant he worked at was closing for good.

It got him and his family thinking: Maybe it was time to consider something else, like for Blake to open his own business.

For a few months they brainstormed ideas. They traveled to Albuquerque to meet Tim Harris — of the world-famous Tim's Place restaurant — who also has Down syndrome. Everything was telling them to take the leap and start a business, so they did.

Over the next year, the Pyron family worked hard to develop a business plan for Blake.

They bought a concession trailer and ice machines, they perfected snow cone recipes, they found the perfect location. The city was supportive but didn't give them any shortcuts to success. Eventually Blake became Sanger's youngest business owner — and Texas' first with Down syndrome.

After a few sneak peek weekends, Blake’s Snow Shack officially opened for business on May 7 — Mother’s Day.

Along with representatives from the Sanger Chamber of Commerce, Blake cuts the ribbon on opening day.

It was an instant and undeniable hit.


Huge crowds of people waited in the heat for their first taste of a snow cone from Blake's Snow Shack.

From 3 p.m. until 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, Blake is in the Snow Shack trailer serving up cool sweet treats from the 32-flavor menu. There are nine people on his staff and a huge crew of volunteers available for support whenever he needs it.


Blake and a member of his staff wait for crowds on a hot day at the Snow Shack.

Blake's involved in all the day-to-day operations — from managing employees to making snow cones to marketing and promotions.


Blake's shirt makes it clear who's in charge.

"When it comes down to it," says Mary Ann, "Down syndrome is such a small part of who Blake is. He's a son, he's a brother, he's a friend, he's a boyfriend, he's a business owner. He was prom king, citizen of the year, he was football captain. Now he's Sanger's youngest business owner."

As for the community uniting behind Blake, she's grateful for every minute of it. "The support that we’ve received has been priceless. Everything Blake is a community effort."


Some of the enthusiastic members of Team Blake.

Blake's Snow Shack is such a runaway success, he's already thinking of what's next.

Blake purchased a second trailer so the Snow Shack can go on location to do events, like cheering on Ty Dillon at NASCAR races, where his company logo is featured on the #95 car. There's talk of further expansion — even franchises — where people with special needs or groups supporting folks with developmental challenges can be a part of building their own business.


A very excited customer.

In the meantime, special needs kids and their families are showing up at the Snow Shack all the time for a chance to meet Blake.

Blake and a young fan.

His success as Sanger's youngest business owner is a reminder that people get to set their own limits, and they alone decide what they can and cannot do.

Every person with Down syndrome is different, and not all of them will want to — or be able to — bust barriers in the same way Blake does. That's OK. Mary Ann is more interested in how Blake's story helps other moms of kids with developmental challenges stay positive and open-minded.

"My message to moms everywhere is not to allow society’s expectations to be your child's reality. Moms can get overwhelmed by reading blogs and telling you that your child can't do anything, and they'll really never be given the change to do anything. They're wrong. Do not limit your child. Believe in your child. The rest comes together with faith and hard work."
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Shanda Lynn Poitra was born and raised on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in Belcourt, North Dakota. She lived there until she was 24 years old when she left for college at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

"Unfortunately," she says, "I took my bad relationship with me. At the time, I didn't realize it was so bad, much less, abusive. Seeing and hearing about abusive relationships while growing up gave me the mentality that it was just a normal way of life."

Those college years away from home were difficult for a lot of reasons. She had three small children — two in diapers, one in elementary school — as well as a full-time University class schedule and a part-time job as a housekeeper.

"I wore many masks back then and clothing that would cover the bruises," she remembers. "Despite the darkness that I was living in, I was a great student; I knew that no matter what, I HAD to succeed. I knew there was more to my future than what I was living, so I kept working hard."

While searching for an elective class during this time, she came across a one-credit, 20-hour IMPACT self-defense class that could be done over a weekend. That single credit changed her life forever. It helped give her the confidence to leave her abusive relationship and inspired her to bring IMPACT classes to other Native women in her community.

I walked into class on a Friday thinking that I would simply learn how to handle a person trying to rob me, and I walked out on a Sunday evening with a voice so powerful that I could handle the most passive attacks to my being, along with physical attacks."

It didn't take long for her to notice the difference the class was making in her life.

"I was setting boundaries and people were either respecting them or not, but I was able to acknowledge who was worth keeping in my life and who wasn't," she says.

Following the class, she also joined a roller derby league where she met many other powerful women who inspired her — and during that summer, she found the courage to leave her abuser.

"As afraid as I was, I finally had the courage to report the abuse to legal authorities, and I had the support of friends and family who provided comfort for my children and I during this time," she says.

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Lynelle Cantwell

This article originally appeared on 08.20.17

Lynelle Cantwell is in 12th grade at Holy Trinity High School in Torbay, Newfoundland and Labrador (that's Canada). On Monday, she found out that she had been featured on another student's anonymous online poll entitled "Ugly Girls in Grade 12," along with several other classmates.

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Cantwell responded via Facebook with her own message, which has already been shared more than 2,000 times and counting.

Take a look:

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