Special Olympics athlete Ivan Toropov woke up especially happy on 3 March, 2012. It was his 16th birthday. Since early morning at breakfast, teammates and competitors who were participating in the national competition in Murmansk had been congratulating him; each wish charmingly acknowledged by a handshake from Toropov. The teenager, who has Down Syndrome, lives in an institution for children and youths with intellectual disabilities in Arkhangelsk in northwest Russia.
“The aim for Toropov is to learn to be self-sufficient,” explained Aleksey Vorobiov, a lawyer at the institution who was also part of the team. “Ivan is being taught personal hygiene, how to get dressed, and other skills he needs to take care of himself,” Vorobiov said. Once Toropov turns 18 he will be sent to an institution for adults with intellectual disabilities. What impact the move will have on his life is unknown. But for now, on his birthday, Toropov didn’t have a care in the world. He wanted nothing more than to enjoy the fond attention of his friends and find warmth from the cold nestled in arms of Vorobiov.