For the last two years, Alex Singleton has worn a black rubber band on his right wrist. It was a gift from his older sister, Ashley.
The band's message is simple: Rethink. Respect. Reconsider. And while the band is as light as a feather on Singleton's wrist, the words emblazoned on it carry a lot of weight for the 26-year-old linebacker.
The words are the motto of an initiative out of Singleton's home area of Ventura County, California called Project R, whose mission is to "discourage the use of the R-word so that people with disabilities may be empowered and recognized as individuals with qualities and abilities who offer significance" to the community, according to its Facebook page.
The message resonates with Singleton for a number of reasons, but chief among them is the person who gifted him the wrist band to him two years ago, Ashley.
Ashley was born with Down syndrome, a genetic disorder caused when "abnormal cell division results in an extra full or partial copy of chromosome 21," according to the Mayo Clinic. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, about 6,000 babies are born with Down syndrome each year, which is about one in every 700. Although Ashley was among the one in 700, if you ask her younger brother, she is by far the best athlete in the family.
Ashley has competed in the Special Olympics for more than 20 years in swimming and bowling, collecting a slew of accolades along the way. She also works with Project R to create a better life for those who have mental disabilities.
All of this makes Ashley more than just a big sister for Alex. She is his role model and inspiration to give maximum effort in all of his endeavors.
"Everything from the way I play, from the way I look at everybody in this world is from my sister," Alex said. "From a best friend to my biggest supporter to my best competition, she makes the world a much better place not only for me but for my friends, my family."
Alex was inspired by his sister at a very young age, as he volunteered for Special Olympics as a child. He has kept up that work throughout his life. When he was earning Defensive Player of the Year honors in the Canadian Football League, he worked with Special Olympics Calgary. He has continued to work with Special Olympics here in Philadelphia.
"You get around Special Olympic athletes and they're the best people in the world," Alex said. "Whether it's the most athletic person or the least athletic person, the most mobile, the least mobile, it doesn't matter. You're going to get that 100 percent effort, that big smile on their face, just to be out there playing a sport that they love."
Ashley is no different, as she is a fierce competitor, especially when she goes up against her little brother. Ashley is not fond of coming in second place and when she is victorious, she makes sure Alex remembers it with endless trash talk.
But even if he does come out on top, Alex will readily concede that his sister is the superior athlete.
"I don't even know if it's really competing because I'll never be able to catch up to all the stuff she's won," Alex said.
Ashley has won in so many ways, but her biggest victory lies on Alex's wrist. With one wristband, Alex is spreading a very important message. And when more people take heed to that message, everyone wins.
"I love her completely, and just every second with her is pretty special for me," Singleton said.