COLUMBIA — Adam Alghalith spoke softly to his older brother, Sami, as he waited his turn. Competing in bowling at the Special Olympics Missouri State Summer Games, Sami threw a gutter ball in his ninth frame and raised his arms in frustration.
Adam told him to stay focused and preached patience. Sami then knocked down eight pins on his 10th and final attempt.
A confident Sami entered his last round and walked off with first place in the two-game bowling championship, along with his partner, Daniel Lammers.
“My brother told me I’ll be fine and to focus,” Sami said. “I like having my brother there because he hugs me.”
Adam, who will be a junior at Kirksville High School in the fall, started working with the Special Olympics in 2010 when Sami began participating in bowling and basketball practices. Sami, 17, was diagnosed with Down syndrome soon after he was born.
In the past four years, Adam, 15, has served as a volunteer, chaperone and unified partner — a regular competitor who plays in games with Special Olympians — for the Games.
He even participated in a Youth Activation Committee, a conference held in St. Joseph, where he learned how to be a leader at the Special Olympics and in his community.
Adam has been his brother’s keeper the majority of his life, but Sami isn’t completely dependent on Adam.
Sami takes a class called "Work Experience" that allows him to work at Walmart and Hy-Vee. When he graduates from high school next summer, Sami would like to work in the restaurant business.
"I think one thing that Sami and all Special Olympic athletes learn is a greater sense of independence," bowling coach Jaime Janes said.
But there are still times when Sami will mimic Adam. Sami, an early riser, started sleeping in later so he can wake up at the same time as Adam. He also copies the way Adam eats his food. If Adam lifts his fork, Sami lifts his fork. If Adam starts to chew, Sami does, too.
Adam's and Sami's mother, Fara Alghalith, said Adam is like a third parent to Sami, which makes daily life a lot easier for her.
“I know that if I need to run out and do something, Adam will stay at home to watch his brother and won’t complain about it,” Fara said.
Adam handles this responsibility well, Fara said, and has even turned down opportunities to socialize or play sports to help take care of Sami. Last year, Adam had the opportunity to attend Kirksville’s band trip, but decided to skip it — he had something more important to do.
“He told me there will be other band trips, and chose to stay so he could volunteer at the Special Olympics,” Fara said. “He enjoys watching his brother play; I think they both get a lot out of it.”
This story was written by one of 11 students participating in the Sports Journalism Institute, hosted by MU. This is the 22nd class for the Institute, designed to provide minority and female students with a start in the sports journalism industry. This is SJI's third year at Missouri.