Leon and Jared Morton prepare to skate

Richard J. Codey Arena in West Orange, 2017 Special Olympics New Jersey Winter Games for figure skating. The arena is not filled to capacity, it feels like all the spectators are close family and friends. Leon and Jared Morton are on the freshly Zambonied ice, wearing identical outfits prepared by Veronica Morton: black slacks, white shirt under a grey sweater, and a black bow-tie. A few more minutes of warm-ups and they are ready for the big moment.

The song selection is fitting: “Just the two of us” from the Austin Powers soundtrack. Father and son glide past the judges as the line “Mini-Me, you complete me…” blares from the speakers. The performance is short, but it leaves a lasting impression anyone who witnessed it.

As seems to be the nature with competitions, a lot of time is spent waiting for things to progress according to schedule. Jared and Leon spend their time eating crackers, socializing and taking photos with family and friends. After everybody is done skating, athletes, families and coaches mingle, awaiting the awards ceremony. There is lots of laughter, hugging, and a general sense of familiarity with each other. Skaters show their appreciation for the photographer’s work, and willingly pose for more photos.

Jared takes it all in, but does not ignore the seemingly endless supply of pizza.

Jared, who is 15, has Down syndrome. He received early intervention services at home once he was 3 months old. These are services designed to address developmental delays that may be experienced by children with Down syndrome.

He then continued at a specialized school, Stepping Stones. Later he was also diagnosed as being on the Autism spectrum and has attended schools specializing in Autism ever since.

He has been at his current school, The Phoenix Center, for 4 years. The Phoenix Center is an accredited, not-for-profit school serving 145 students with its 196 staff.

Amongst other things he is taught music, where with the instrument of his choice, a tambourine, he recognizes his cues and rhythms. During speech session he pairs images on an iPad with the words his speech therapist says. The same principle is applied with laminated cards, where identical symbols or numbers are matched. During several five-minute blocks over the course of the day the students do movement therapy with their teachers and paraprofessionals.

And during the consumer, family and life skills class, he and his fellow students prepare a salad. They learn how to safely cut veggies, open condiment bottles and measure liquids, and last, but not least, how to clean up the workspace before eating. Then, finally, the highlight: the teacher added the chicken she had cooked and sliced, and the students ate with fervor. Most of them opted for seconds.

The Morton family had tried different activities in the past, but ice skating is the activity that stuck with Jared. It all started over 10 years ago, when he received a “Learn to skate” program from a prior school.

Asked on his personal connection to the sport, Jared’s father answered “If my son is doing it, I’m doing it”. But he also has his own goals: not to fall. Which is not as easy as it sounds!

After receiving an invitation from the director of the Essex Special Skaters program, the Mortons decided to join the Special Olympics Program. They practice once a week and compete in the Winter Games. They also participate in the Essex Special Skaters big year-end show, which was held less than a week ago.

Excerpt from the song the Mortons skate to:

Mini-Me, you complete me

Just the two of us (uh-huh)

We can make it (yeah) if we try

Just the two of us

Just me and you

Just me and you

Getting Jiggy with it (ha ha)

J-u-ust the two of us (yeaaah)

(Hmm)

Building castles in da sky

J-u-u-st the two of us

(You and I)

J-u-u-u-u-st the two of us

Whoo!

Uh!

Ha Ha Ha Ha

Daddy loves you

Daddy loves you

Whoo

Uh

Ha ha

Just the two of us

You and I

Sources: Phoenix Center New Jersey, NDSS.org, Leon Morton, SONJ, Genius.

Words and photos: Marco Catini, who would like to thank everybody for their support, welcoming hospitality, and the tasty chicken salad!

View the full album of photos on Facebook

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