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Jules Hoogland heard the basket, then made her free throw shot to cheers from the crowd.

It's a common belief that disabilities make it impossible to do certain things. Sometimes that's true—but not nearly as often as people might assume. With the right support and accommodations, people with all manner of disabilities can participate in far more activities than society expects.

Take, for instance, a team sport like basketball. Can a person who can't see play that sport? How would they know where they are on the court? How would they know where to throw the ball or locate where the basket is? How could they keep track of where their teammates are and what they're doing?

Without a little imagination in answering them, those questions seem like they'd exclude blind people from being able to play basketball. However, when inclusion is the goal, human beings can figure out all kinds of ways to make the seemingly impossible happen.


High school basketball player Jules Hoogland is completely blind. As a junior at Zeeland East High School in Michigan, Hoogland plays on Zeeland's Unified Sports team made up of students with and without disabilities.

As she set up for a free throw, the crowd fell into a hush so Hoogland could hear the tapping of the basket so she could put the ball in the right spot. A fellow player ensured she was positioned for the shot, and Hoogland nailed it.

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Not only was it a great shot, it was an awesome example of what support and inclusion can look like from both a school and a community.

Unified Sports is a program by Special Olympics that promotes inclusion in sports by bringing people with and without intellectual or physical disabilities together to play on the same team. Unified Sports teams are made up of people of similar age and skill to create a level playing field and to make practices and games both challenging and fun.

The goal is not so much for those without disabilities to "help" those with; rather, it's a way to empower everyone to have fun together through sports. Teammates work together to play their personal and collective best for the good of the team.

According to Special Olympics, about 1.4 million people worldwide take part in Unified Sports. What a beautiful way for everyone to benefit from the fun and camaraderie sports can provide, and to provide a way for people of all abilities and disabilities to build bonds of friendship.

Richard and Didi Dobbs didn't know much about Down syndrome when their nephew Sean was born with the condition in 1985.

The only thing they did know — and according to all of the information they could find on the condition — was that it was synonymous with "Mongolism." Which, as you can imagine, was less than reassuring.

"It was the '80s, and there was no Internet or anything," Didi told Upworthy. "I knew the very little that people in the '60s would know, which is that it was odd, or freaky, or scary."


Before the '80s, the average life expectancy for a person with Down syndrome was 28 years, and it was common for children born with the condition to be sent away and raised in institutions or group homes, segregated from educational opportunities and the public at large. In fact, up until 1984 — just a year before Sean was born — doctors were not legally required to give medically indicated treatment for life-threatening conditions to infants with disabilities.


Sean as a toddler. All GIFs via Richard Dobbs/Vimeo.

So the Dobbses tried to help their family, and others like them, the only way that they knew how: by turning the cameras on.

When Sean was 2 years old, they began to film his life with the ultimate goal of turning the footage into an informational video to help other families treading the then-uncharted waters of raising a child with Down syndrome. At the time, no such movies existed, at least not that they could find.

Over the years, they documented all the major milestones in Sean’s life. They filmed his speech and occupational therapy classes as he learned to walk and talk. When he took a liking to swimming, they brought their camera along to his high school swim meets. They followed him to the prom and to his high school graduation, when he became the first special needs student in the 2,000-person school to graduate on time.

Sean shaving before the prom.

Their archival footage was interesting to family and friends, but it wasn't really a story ... until they learned that Sean was going to compete in the National Special Olympics Triathlon in 2014.

Suddenly, the film that had been nearly 30 years in the making had a whole new shape as well as a name: "Sean So Far."

The Dobbses began to chronicle Sean's preparation alongside his triathlon partner, Troy — the only two athletes from Connecticut to compete in the national games that year. Their friendship would go on to become one of the lynchpins of the film.

Sean and Troy training together.

But the film took another unexpected turn when Sean was rushed into emergency spinal surgery six months before his big race.

During an obligatory physical, doctors discovered an atlantoaxial instability in Sean’s neck. This is a fairly common congenital complication in people with Down syndrome, although that doesn't make it any less serious.

Sean ended up missing eight weeks of training that winter while he recovered from the surgery. But as soon as the neck brace was gone and the doctors gave the word, he was right back at it, determined to get himself back into shape before the race.

Sean ended up taking home the bronze medal at the National Special Olympics that year, but his story didn't stop there.

Just two weeks after the race, Sean and Troy were invited to attend a black-tie dinner at the White House on behalf of the Special Olympics International Committee.

Sean was even given the opportunity to deliver a speech to President Barack Obama and his family. "His mouth had no muscle tone when he was a baby — we have footage of that — so this speech was a big deal!" Didi Dobbs said.

Sean meeting President Obama.

The Dobbses have seen a lot of changes in the 30 years that they've been working on "Sean So Far" — both in Sean himself and in the way the world looks at Down syndrome.

Didi recalled seeing a child with Down syndrome in a recent commercial for Target and noted how that kind of visibility goes a long way to normalizing the condition and building empathy for people with it. After all, that's how Sean has been able to do so many amazing things: by thinking that he could and having a family who supported that.

"Sean learned that everything is possible, not that he has limits," Didi said. "He knows he has Down syndrome, and he talks about it. Yes, it's a disability. But I heard someone refer to it as 'life in a different key.' And that's how I've come to see it."

Sean being interviewed about self-respect for the documentary.

As for Sean himself? He’s returned to his day job, enjoying some much-needed downtime.

2014 was a whirlwind of excitement, so he's taking some time to hang out with friends, go to the gym, and catch up on his favorite TV shows and hobbies.

You know, like people normally do.

Check out the trailer for "Sean So Far" below: