- Associated Press - Sunday, December 4, 2016

MUNCIE, Ind. (AP) - From first through fifth grade, Cory Cooper was in the gifted program at Storer Elementary School. When the program shifted to another school, he noticed how sad some people at the school were to see it leave - and how different that reaction was when the special education program transferred to a different school in similar fashion.

In Cory’s mind, everybody else had it backwards. The Storer community was hurt more by losing the special education program than his gifted program, he thought, because of people like his younger sister Madison, who is developmentally challenged.

That was about seven years ago, and Cory’s mom, Terri, still remembers what her son said that day: “Wait a minute, you didn’t cry when my sister left, why would you cry when I leave? That’s who you’re missing out on, getting to know her.

“I learn something from her every day. She doesn’t learn something from me every day.”

Cory, now a Central senior with a bevy of academic opportunities, is a “top-notch,” wrestler, according to his coach, Mark Scott. And that’s the third-most impressive thing about him, Scott says, behind the 4.0 grade-point average and his extensive involvement in unified sports so that he can hang out with his sister. “It’s just amazing to see an individual spend so much time with their sibling and care for her,” Scott said.

After they were born 14 months apart, Terri would lay Cory and Madison on the couch as babies and they would wiggle closer to each other until they were touching. Madison couldn’t talk or walk until about five years ago, so Cory read books and tried to learn sign language and then teach her. They developed their own language.

“When she couldn’t talk, he would come to me and say, ‘Maddie is hungry or Maddie is thirsty,’” Terri said. “And I’d be like, ‘No she’s not, how do you know?’ He’d say, ‘Because I just know.’ So I’d ask her, ‘Maddie are you thirsty?’ And she would nod. . They were just connected, he knew what she needed when she needed it.”

Even as doctors predicted that Madison would never walk or talk, Cory remained steadfast in his belief that they were wrong. He would tell his mom, “(The doctors) don’t know, mom - I know.”

About five years ago, Madison overcame her speech disability and motor issues and “came out of her shell,” Cory says. And Madison has made up for lost time; Cory says he can’t go down the hallway at school or around town without spotting her and saying hi, and he happily admits, “She’s way more popular than I am.”

Cory has gotten creative with his schedule, typically arriving at Central between 6:30 and 7 a.m. each day to work on homework so that he has as much time as possible after school for wrestling and unified sports. He is involved in nearly as many unified sports (golf, volleyball, softball, bowling, track, swimming) as AP classes (English, statistics, calculus, government, economics, physics and biology).

“Doctors told her she’d never be able to read, talk or walk, now she does all those things perfectly fine,” Cory said. “She’s an inspiration to me, really. I feel like if she can do stuff doctors said was impossible, I can make time out of my day to have fun with her.”

Cory had been begging his parents to get involved with Special Olympics and unified sports since Madison was around 8 years old, and about two years ago, they finally relented. Now they can’t imagine life without it. There are some weeks in the summer that they will have some sort of combination of sports five days per week.

Cory, who is coming off a close loss at wrestling semistate as a junior, is 5-0 on the mat this year for the Bearcats. With a 33 ACT and a weighted GPA of an estimated 4.5, Cory doesn’t plan on wrestling in college as he has his sights set on MIT or Yale. But ultimately, his mom predicts that he might stay close to home and attend Purdue instead - so he can stay close to Maddie and stay involved in unified sports.

At church on a recent Sunday, the pastor called some of the younger people up to the front and asked them to share with the rest of the attendees what they were thankful for, since Thanksgiving was just a few days away. Some said their family, some said food.

When it was Madison’s turn, she exclaimed, “Cory!”

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Source: The (Muncie) Star Press, https://tspne.ws/2gzJZ0D

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Information from: The Star Press, https://www.thestarpress.com

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