The Fantoni Sisters
By: USA Games Correspondent, tynan gable
The “Fantastic Fantonis”: There could not be a more fitting name for these two young girls that have hearts of pure gold. This is why they are being recognized this week in the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games #ImAGameChanger campaign.
Victoria and Eugenia Fantoni, ages eight and 10, respectively, moved to the Seattle area almost two years ago from their home in Mexico. When Vicky entered the first grade at St. Catherine’s School, she did not speak a word of English. And that’s when she met Kate Vecchiet, an eight-year-old girl with Down syndrome who’s mom Gail describes her as “spunky, determined, and confident.” Kate was Vicky’s first friend at St. Catherine’s, and the girls have been inseparable ever since. In this regard, Kate actually had the opportunity to be a game changer for Vicky, as well; giving her a friend in a new world of uncertainty.
Ever since Kate and Vicky have been joined at the hip. They enjoy everything from soccer and gymnastics practices to their annual joint parties celebrating their birthdays that are one day apart. When Eugenia plays with the two younger girls, she often fills what Gail refers to as a “Mother Teresa” role, in which she acts as a mentor and role model for Vicky and Kate, playing alongside them but also looking out for them when they need it.
But there’s something else that makes the girls’ friendship special.
“There are really no other typically developing kids who have come together to celebrate Kate the way that they have,” said Gail. “When other kids just can’t be bothered, Vicky and Eugenia step up to translate, volunteer, and be Kate’s partner.”
Kate does have other friends at school as well as other friends with Down syndrome but her mom says, "nothing has ever come close to the bond she shares with Vicky and Eugenia."
Days are never boring for Kate and the Fantoni sisters because they always find inclusive activities to do, often times chosen by Kate. These include things like solving puzzles, playing games, and watching movies. Vicky and Eugenia make it a point to include Kate in determining their adventures, and they are patient and accommodating to all of Kate’s needs.
The girls’ newest adventure is skiing. Kate has been skiing for years but Vicky and Eugenia are new to the sport. This has given Kate the opportunity to share something she likes to do with her friends, and she’s been teaching the Fantoni sisters how to ski this winter. In the end, whatever it may be that the three girls are doing, they simply enjoy it as long as they’re in each other’s company.
This relationship between Kate and the Fantoni duo has extended past just the girls. The Fantoni and Vecchiet families are now very close. They go on vacation together, and Kate receives unlimited support from the entire Fantoni family. When Gail hosts fundraisers or events to raise awareness for children with Down syndrome, Maria and Mauricio Fantoni (the girls’ parents) are always the first to donate time, money, and whatever else it takes to support Kate and her family. Gail explains that she is “drawn to people who are drawn to Kate,” and the entire Fantoni family certainly fits that mold.
What amazes Gail most about this remarkable friendship is that it’s not required. Gail explains that, with all credit due to Kate’s older brother, Luke, for being incredible in the way he treats Kate, it’s remarkable that the Fantoni sisters match that level of respect and love when they have no reason to do so other than they are genuinely kind-hearted and caring young girls. They understand and accept Kate for all she has to offer, and they actually commend her just for being who she is. Gail recently asked Eugenia if she understood what Down syndrome was.
“It’s what makes Kate extra nice,” was her reply.
There is an important lesson to be learned from these girls because their small, daily acts of inclusion, openness, and love are what truly makes Victoria and Eugenia Fantoni worthy of this #ImAGameChanger recognition. They are leading by example to teach the world that it is the expectation, not the exception, to treat everyone with equal respect and non-judgment. That’s the message that has already changed the game for Kate, and that’s also the message that has the power to change the world.