MCALLEN, Texas (ValleyCentral) — In the Rio Grande Valley there are many people with special talents and unique abilities. However, one student seems to constantly stand out among others, constantly redefining what it means to have special abilities.

Addison Bortnick is a cheerleader at McAllen Memorial High School who has made it her mission to break down barriers for people with special needs. 

Photo courtesy: Bortnick Family

Addison, a 9th-grade student at Memorial has Down Syndrome but has never let it slow her down. Her motto for life is, “With inclusion and love, all things are possible.”

It is a perspective on life her parents have instilled in her as a young child. 

Every morning, Addison wakes up repeating the same mantra, “I am smart, I’m kind, I’m courageous, I’m brave, I’m strong, I’m beautiful.”

Those words of affirmation ultimately led her to cheer and her family says she is Mcallen Memorial High School’s first junior varsity cheerleader with Down Syndrome. 

“It makes me feel really happy to be a part of the team. I feel loved and included,” Bortnick said.

Addison says nothing makes her happier than cheering on classmates and cheering on her older and younger brothers who play baseball. 

“I love my older brother so much, he’s my favorite player number 10,” she said.

It’s all possible because Mcallen ISD puts inclusion at the forefront of the student learning experience. Addison’s parents say they are thankful for this step taken by the school and district.

“When she was little on the cheer team it was a lot of struggle because when all the other little girls were catching on really quick, Addison was doing the best she could do but she was behind and I’d get a lot of people saying maybe you should put her on a special team, this isn’t where she fits in,” her mother Rebecca Bortnick said. 

Addison and her mother, Rebecca. Photo courtesy Bortnick Family.

Addison’s family did not let the doubt discourage them, and her family stayed the course–believing she could cheer alongside her peers.

“Being different is beautiful because you are enough,” Addison said.

That faith in herself led to what Addison calls the best moment of her life; when she found out she made the Mcallen Memorial Junior Varsity cheer team.

“Thank you God! I can cheer for my friends! This is the best day of my life!”

Addison plans to continue to defy expectations. She hopes to continue cheering in college at Texas A&M and then work as a public speaker.

Her brother has hopes of attending as a baseball player and hopes Addison will be there too.

“I can do anything I put my mind to. I am unstoppable,” she said. 

In addition to cheering, Addison is also a model, National Down Syndrome ambassador, and has been honored by Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez and other state leaders.