Special Olympics Florida

Devoted dad stays home for Riley, who ‘lights up a room’

Written by: Carlos E. Medina, Ocala.com

Riley Belcher was born with Down syndrome two years ago, prompting her father to take on the role of a stay-at-home dad to help with her therapies.

Colin and Jennifer Belcher faced a world of unknowns when their youngest daughter, Riley, was born with Down syndrome two years ago.  The couple learned all they could about the condition and decided the best thing they could do was for Colin to take the role of a stay-at-home dad to give Riley every opportunity for therapies and programs to help her development.  Today, Riley is an active, happy 2-year-old and Colin has experienced the most rewarding time in his life.

On this Father’s Day, Belcher’s dad story is one of the many out there exemplifying fatherhood.

Riley has therapy five times a week to help her development, which is delayed due to the condition. It’s why Colin stays at home: so he can shuttle her to appointments. He said the effort is paying dividends. Riley started walking on her own several months ago and continues to improve her verbal communication.

“She said ‘mama’ for the first time (recently). She’s been saying ‘dada’ for a while,” Belcher said. “She’s doing extremely well. She’s a very outgoing, happy, social girl. She wants to give high-fives to everyone she meets. She really lights up the room.”

But Belcher does miss the company of adults sometimes.  “It’s rewarding in itself, but every once in a while you want to go to work. But then I look at her and it’s worth it because she is thriving with these therapies,” Belcher said. “The finances are a little tighter. We have to find ways to make the budget work, but it’s all worth it.”

Belcher has helped establish Special Olympics Young Athletes in Marion County, which is a non-competitive play program that allows children with intellectual disabilities the opportunity to learn basic sports skills, like throwing and kicking a ball.

“We started that group because of Riley. We started with three children and are now up to 20,” said John Robles, Special Olympics Florida county director for Marion and Lake Counties.

The whole family participates, including Riley’s 8-year-old sister, Olivia, who competes along with  Special Olympics athletes in certain activities.

But Belcher didn’t stop at Young Athletes level; he immersed himself in Special Olympics with an eye toward keeping the program strong for Riley when her turn comes to compete. Children can participate in competitive events starting at 8.

He ended up as the head coach of the track and field team and took several members of the team to the state competition in May, where they distinguished themselves.  “We won quite a few medals,” Belcher said.

Robles said Belcher’s commitment to Special Olympics is invaluable and allows more children to participate.  “Honestly, it’s been far more rewarding for me,” Belcher said. “Watching them practice hard and improve their skill and then being able to make it to state competition and watch them have the pride they get from that, it’s an indescribable feeling.”