A Rescue Mission

I suspect the drain had blocked up a bit and she panicked. Water began accumulating around her feet; swirling and gurgling like a trapped fish in a net. What was she to do? Thoughts don’t come easily. Or clearly. They come in a jumble. I try and understand this but I can’t for a moment comprehend it. How is it that the mind plays such cruel games? What dreadful twist in the human miracle of conception and birth can create such destruction?

She needs to get away from the water so she opens the shower door and stands in the middle of the bathroom calling out,


Mum isn’t home. I am. Kate yelling out “MUM!” isn’t uncommon so I go about my day. She’ll be OK. Probably just checking what clothes she should wear today.

The shower is running with the door open. Water gushes out onto the bathroom floor, and, as water does, it runs to the lowest point – the carpet outside the bathroom.  Kate is trapped. Water, the noise of the exhaust fan, the noise of the shower on full blast, colours; the sun through the shutters, her mind races, she retreats into inaction. No one is answering her calls.


It was raining outside. Just a soft Melbourne drizzle.

“We’ve got a roof leak” says Liam.

“What?” I look up and see water dripping, then flowing, through a light fitting.


The penny drops. I run upstairs and see the water seeping from under the bathroom door.

“Kate” I yell, “you need to open the door.”

But she is lost. She knows this is bad. She wants it to stop.

“I can’t” she yells back.

“Kate, open the door right now!”

Bad move on my part. My urgency just creates more anxiety for her. All the more reason to retreat. Hide until it all stops.

“Kate! Open the door!” Water is running freely now, following the skirting boards and finding its way through the ceiling below. I can see the carpet growing dark as it sucks up the moisture. It’s like watching an oil leak discolouring the ocean.

A minute passes. Then two. I’m pleading with Kate.

“You haven’t done anything wrong, but you need to let me in.”

Eventually she gets it. Dad is here to help. She should let him in. The door opens. The rescue begins.


I’ve told tales of Kate’s adventures previously. Some of you may know her, or know of her. She’s a swimmer. A pretty good one. She trains a few times a week. She also has Down Syndrome. She’s previously represented Victoria in Special Olympics swimming, and last year represented Australia at the Special Olympics Asia Pacific Games. But that’s not really important. What is important to her is that she gets to see her friends. She gets to feel what it’s like to hang out in a group, to be a part of something that is completely natural. And normal. I think she craves normal.

On Wednesday I was driving her to swimming training. She usually takes the opportunity on our little drives to discuss things with me. Things that weigh on her. Or things that simply occur to her. Like:

“If someone at school is being mean to me what should I do Dad?” Or,

“We have exams at school soon. But I can’t do exams. Do I have to do exams?” Or,

“Which TV characters are your favourites?”

She thinks about things.

But on Wednesday she floored me. It was innocent but it sucked the air out of my lungs.

“I don’t like having Down Syndrome.”

There it was. Honest and brutal.

“Why?” I asked

“I don’t know” she said, “I just don’t like it”.

It was the whole shower disaster that prompted this. She thinks about things. Even dwells on them. The muddle of her mind. It must torture her.

I probably should have stopped the car. I drove along in a fog. I can clean up a flooded bathroom but I can’t help her with the thing she wants most. I can’t pull her out of her torment.

When we got to swimming she was in her world. The peaceful water world. With her friends. She was laughing and giggling. They all were. She was waving at me as she did her warm up laps; smiling because I was there. But I had to go. I needed to walk and digest things.

“I don’t like having Down Syndrome.” Powerful words.  Words that made me feel useless.


The National Games for Special Olympics are being held in Melbourne this October. Kate is representing Victoria. And so are her “best friends in the world”, Maddy and Harvey. Medals are great, but having Maddy and Harvey there is even better. They’ll swim their hearts out like any athlete representing their State. Sport is a wonderful vehicle that can carry them to contentment, albeit temporary contentment. Perhaps Kate can forget for one week that she has Down Syndrome.

Unfortunately Special Olympics (there is a separate organisation in each State) operates like a beetle wriggling on its back. Funding is inadequate, volunteers are required to do too much. It needs help. Sustained help. It is a worthy organisation in a sea of other worthy organisations. But if it can get Kate and her mates (and her fellow competitors around the country) away from the noise and the confusion and the hardship for just a few days, then I reckon it’s priceless. If you have a few spare coins, or a few spare hours, give them a call. And if you want to see some terrific sport, get along and watch.

Special Olympics Victoria, Melbourne Inner East, Fund Raising – Special Olympics Australia, National Games

Mark Wilson

Ph: 03 9885 4136

M: 0407 501 842


Or visit:  www.specialolympics.com.au for other States’ and regions’ information.

About Damian O'Donnell

I'm passionate about breathing. And you should always chase your passions. If I read one more thing about what defines leadership I think I'll go crazy. Go Cats.


  1. Chris Bracher says

    Wow Dips – that grabbed me.
    A wonderful piece.
    Go Kate!

  2. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Dips such a powerful , wonderful and gut wrenching article . I have helped re special Olympics and is a brilliant organization to be involved in . I am currently selling raffle tickets for , Down Syndrome and you have got me pumped to sell as many as I possibly can . Thank You DIPS

  3. Thanks boys.

    Good luck RB with the raffle tickets. More power to you!

  4. Wonderful stuff Dips. Some questions have no answers, other than the deeply philosophical. And that is little consolation in the moment.
    Love and connection is what we all need, and Kate has that in spades.
    Thanks for sharing the vulnerability. It makes us all stronger.
    Go Cats (tonight).

  5. E.regnans says

    G’day Dips.
    Beautifully played.
    And well played Kate, too, with the questioning.
    Thanks very much for your sharing this story.

  6. Tom Martin says

    This is honest and vulnerable writing.

    Kate’s unvarnished, simple truth moves me more than a thousand elegant words could ever hope to. Thank you for retelling it.

    All the best to Kate and her mates in the upcoming carnival.

  7. Hi Dips, another beautiful piece on Kate. I just can’t imagine how it must be. I will definitely click on the link you provided and look forward to hearing updates as the games near.

  8. Keiran Croker says

    Thanks for sharing Dips. It does help. And good luck to Kate and friends in October.

  9. Thanks for all the comments and thoughts. The Knackery and the Knackers are brilliant.

  10. Luke Reynolds says

    Beautifully written Dips.

  11. Dips

    Beautiful, as usual. I must be hard when there are questions you can answer as a dad (about cartoon characters) then questions or statements from out of the blue that just floor you, that you can’t answer everything or make everythingbetter

    Go Kate, the Almanac’s little fish


  12. Anne Myers says

    Beautiful piece Dips. She’s lucky to have you as her dad. And she’s just like her dad. You both think about things.


  13. This resonates with me…very emotional and powerful !

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