The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

January 27, 2013

'Chase-ing' dreams: Living with Down syndrome

Ed McCall
For Thrive

There may have been a time when patrons at the fitness center at The Resort at Glade Springs may have been surprised to see a child with Down syndrome burning up the adjoining treadmill. No more!

Chase Mullins has become a regular at the resort’s gym. His parents, Jeff and Andrea Mullins of Daniels, make it a part of his weekly routine, hopefully getting to the gym at least three times for exercise and maybe even for some bowling afterward, which Chase really enjoys.

The Mullinses have a dream for their son and the foresight to know that healthy living will be a key to fulfilling that dream.

Chase, as with all Down children, was born with some physical limitations. In his 12 years he has already had two open heart surgeries (in Morgantown) and may face a third at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in the future to fix a leaky mitral valve.

Most Down syndrome children are born with some form of congenital heart problems. Chase is no different, but his willingness to turn challenges into stepping stones bodes well.

Even on days when they can’t make it to the gym, his parents find ways for Chase to be active for at least 30 minutes. Some days that might come as a walk through the neighborhood, covering up to a mile or more. It might come on the trampoline with big brother Keith, a local basketball star of some renown, or throwing up a few jumpers on the driveway hoop with Dad, a former college player himself. Still another might be taking his dog Heidi for a walk around the property.

Most Down children do not walk until they are 2 and many not until the age of 4. Chase was up and at ’em at 18 months, and he hasn’t slowed down since. In fact, one of the things the family is most proud of is that he was completely bathroom trained during his fourth year, a rarity for that age.

Andrea, a Concord University graduate with a degree in elementary education, believes such success comes from the fact that Chase has been parented much like his big brother Keith.

“High expectations for behavior with consequences.” She intimates that when his teachers confide that they wish all their students were as polite and well-behaved as Chase that it really makes her proud. She also says that it is wonderful when she sees the concern and care that fellow students at Shady Spring Elementary show Chase.

Having a mother who has worked with special needs children has also proved beneficial. Chase was able to be mainstreamed his first three years of school, but his dad says at that point, “We really had to do what was best for him.” Now that he is in a self-contained classroom, Chase says his favorite subject is math, but that he also likes science.

“We want him to maximize his math skills and be able to read to the best of his ability,” Jeff explains. To that end, many of his toys growing up have been learning toys with educational benefits. Even today when father and sons are fiercely competing on the Wii, he believes there are many benefits like thinking skills and quick decision making. Even though Chase manages to defeat Dad on occasion, big brother Keith often reminds him that he, not Chase, is “the master of the Wii.”

Out of all the sports and fitness activities in which Chase participates, swimming remains his favorite. He even competed on a swim team when the family resided in Charleston.

Chase also stays active around the house doing his share of household chores. He folds laundry, makes beds and helps his father keep the family cars clean and shiny. He prepares lunches and is known to make a mean turkey sandwich that satisfies the hunger of big brother, as well as friends who might be visiting.

Healthy eating habits work in conjunction with his exercise regimen. Breakfasts are always low carb and packed lunches for school contain yogurt and plenty of raw vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and celery accompanied by some ranch dressing for dipping. Desserts are fresh fruits, with strawberries being Chase’s favorite. Nighttime snacks are most often a smoothie made with fresh fruit and Greek yogurt.

The uneducated or ill-informed observer might think that having a child with Down syndrome would be difficult, even heart-breaking. Anyone who has ever spent time in the company of Chase Mullins or his family would know how far off base that kind of thinking is.

Jeff said, “No matter what kind of day I might have at work … when I come home and that little guy is waiting to give me a hug … You just can’t have a bad day!”

Immediate goals for Chase are quite simple and would work for most children: to be healthy and fit by exercising every day and eating right, to be competent in math and reading, and to graduate from high school.

As for that dream, “We want Chase to be able to live as healthy and as independently as possible as an adult,” Jeff said.

Note:  Andrea was one of the founders of the Down Syndrome Network of WV and encourages anyone seeking information or support to check out their website at Or visit the National Down Syndrome Society at for additional resources or information.