"We got in the car to go to the hospital, and it was like I was sitting on his head, because he was coming out," she says. "When I got there, I was already ten centimeters dilated. I was told not to push, and I was like, 'Yeah, right.' And I gave birth without the doctor there."

At birth, Garrett weighed 8 pounds 6 ounces, measured 19.5 inches long, and was ostensibly healthy. On the Apgar scale, which assesses a newborn's health, he scored a seven or eight out of ten, indicating all was well.

But the next morning, a developmental pediatrician told the couple their newborn son likely had Down syndrome. Dark thoughts immediately washed over Susan in the hospital bed. "It was almost like he was born dead," she says. "I was depressed. I was angry."

Garrett and his crew at American Top Team in Weston.
George Martinez
Garrett and his crew at American Top Team in Weston.
"I will go for a contract for the UFC, get the contract, sign it, and be on UFC," Garrett declares.
George Martinez
"I will go for a contract for the UFC, get the contract, sign it, and be on UFC," Garrett declares.

Down syndrome is the most common cause of birth defects. One in every 691 babies is born with it. Today, approximately 400,000 people in the United States are living with the disability.

It's a genetic condition in which the person has 47 chromosomes instead of the typical 46. The extra genetic material, usually a copy of chromosome 21, causes abnormalities in how the brain and body develop. Though Down syndrome is more common in children of older mothers — for women 44 and older, the chances of having a child with the disorder are 1 in 35 — Susan was 26 years old when she had Garrett. Hospital staff presented the exhausted and overwhelmed parents with three options: Put the boy up for adoption, wait a bit and place him in a group home, or raise him on their own.

"That conversation really hit my wife and me and sent us into a tailspin," Mitch says. "After ten minutes, we were like, 'You guys are crazy — this is our kid!' and we brought him home the next day."

Raising a child with Down syndrome and a 3-year-old brother tested everyone. The learning curve was steep. Garrett needed to be taught even the most basic functions, such as how to sit up and how to roll onto his belly. No one imagined he would one day be able to execute a half-decent triangle chokehold or an excruciating arm bar.

When he was preschool age, his parents took him to a program run by nuns. The sight of dozens of special-needs people confined to the regimented environment left Susan shell-shocked. "I burst into tears," she says. "I threw the pamphlet into the garbage. He went to nursery school with the regular kids; he went to day camp with the regular kids."

After Garrett turned 5, Mitch and Susan decided to have another child. One of the reasons, Susan explains, was they didn't want to leave their eldest son with the sole responsibility of one day having to care for his brother. "We thought at least if there are two, they could split the responsibility, whatever that may eventually be," she says.

A barrage of tests confirmed the good health of their third son, Logan.

In a few years, fart jokes, rough-housing, and sports reigned supreme. Zachary and Logan cut little slack for their brother. Garrett attended public school throughout his education, going to Cooper City High School. He took some classes crafted for kids with learning disabilities, and others that were part of the usual curriculum.

During high school, Garrett slipped into deep denial about having a disability. Though he never caused problems at school, he'd call special-needs kids "retards" at home. "I hate to say it, but it's almost like he was a bigot," Susan says. "He really had this sense of superiority, and he just wanted nothing to do with them."

Soon, Garrett began insisting that people call him by a nickname, usually G or G-Money. At age 18, he took a job at a nearby Publix. Whenever he received a paycheck, he immediately scratched off his name and wrote in whatever his nickname of the month was. It posed problems for the bank tellers.

"I sat him down and told him he can't do that anymore," his dad says. "And he said, 'That's not my name.' And I said, 'Yeah, that's the name your mother and I gave you. And he said, 'Garrett Holeve has Down syndrome, and I don't want to be Garrett Holeve.' That really hit home. I knew he was in denial, but I never knew how bad it was."

About 18 months later, in 2010, the family was watching a night of UFC fights on television when Mitch asked if any of his sons wanted to give MMA a shot. He himself had been a boxer, but he didn't expect a response.

Garrett, however, perked up and a few weeks later walked into an American Top Team training facility in Davie. "I was like, 'Fuck, how do I teach someone with Down syndrome?' " says Rodrigo "Braga" Ramos, a barrel-chested 36-year-old professional fighter who runs that facility.

Garrett's training followed a similar path as it would for anyone just starting in the sport, albeit a bit slower. He learned the basic grappling techniques and then perfected them. He studied punch formation and then weave combinations. He changed his diet and built muscle mass.

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4 comments
romandh
romandh

@NewTimesBroward @mma2themax Can you connect me with the smoky or the fighter himself? Would live to interview him on the #romanshow .

 
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