Native Women’s Wilderness founder, Jaylyn Gough, recently dedicated some time to tell her younger sister Cher’s story of resilience.

Meet Cher. She’s a Diné (Navajo) woman who lives beautifully with Downs Syndrome. If you’re thinking her “disability” holds her back, I’ve got something to share with you! My sister has taught me how to keep fighting when I’m down and how to love. She fights to live, to be a part of this world, to love the loveless, and to challenge the status quo. The fighter in her is innate, but it’s also true that she’s had to be a fighter, just to survive.

Cher-on-track

Cher’s Backstory

Cher was born with both a heart defect and Downs Syndrome. Before the age of five, she survived multiple heart surgeries and came out like a champ. My mom, who at the time was a foster parent and volunteered at the hospital, soon knew that this baby girl had to be a part of our family and brought her home.

There were many years to come of hospital visits, speech and physical therapy appointments for my sister, but my mom never gave up, nor did Cher. Her doctors told us all the things she wouldn’t be able to do; read, write, or live an active life. But this is where she becomes my hero and this is where I have witnessed a miracle, for she can do all the above and does them with such refined grace and beauty.

A Day in the Life of Cher

Cher lives in a house with other adults with disabilities and feels full acceptance in this setting. Within her group home, she gains basic living skills. Doing her own laundry, helping to clean the house, and going on group grocery runs, gives her a sense of independence and self-accomplishments.

Cher works at a day program, that does many amazing things for the Chicago community and various places throughout the world. Right now, she works in a program that boxes beans to be shipped to developing countries (currently she’s packing for Thailand). She also prepares school supplies and hands them out to the children in the Chicago area supporting families with financial need. This job gives her a sense of self-worth and she takes great pride in it.

Cher-at-work

Special Events

Cher’s life is also full of special events and occasions. One of her favorite activities of the year is “Night to Shine“, a prom-type event sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation, where she gets her nails done, her hair fixed, gets to wear a fancy dress, and rides in a limo.

Special Olympics has also played a critical role in Cher’s life. Special Olympics is an encouraging resource for many persons living with intellectual and physical disabilities. Not only is the organization challenging the status quo in so many areas, but it challenges the stigma, isolation and the injustices of living with disabilities. For Cher it has taught her that she matters, that it’s okay to be different, that she deserves all the same love and support, and that she’s perfect just the way she is.

So much of society teaches us that we have to look a certain way, and to be a certain person to be successful. And society is good at making those who don’t fit into these categories, feel unaccepted, rejected, and unloved.

When Cher started Special Olympics, she was very aware of people staring and laughing at her. She knew she was different and unaccepted. Through her participation in Special Olympics I’ve seen a transformation in my sister. She holds so much confidence now!

I do want to give a major thank you and recognition to her coaches. To those who respect her and whom she respects. Also, a huge thank you to the Special Olympic volunteers!

Court-Cher

It’s beautiful to witness Cher and her team walk into a gym, prepare for swimming, or put on their running shoes at the track. People still watch and make fun of them. Cher and her friends still notice, but they’re more secure of themselves and aren’t bothered as much. All they see is people who accept and love them. And all I see is a beautiful woman who has found her worth and has found complete joy.

Personally, I think I will always be looking for this in society and in others, and she gives me hope. Hope, that someday I’ll see my worth and that I’ll find joy in just being me, and not who society tells me to be. I hope someday I can be just like Cher.

She may be my little sister, but I look up to her in so many ways. She’s my hero.

Cher-Hoka