Have you ever wished you were someone else?
That’s the thought-provoking question posed in the title of the new book by SOWI athlete Marquis Garner of Team Milwaukee.
The title was taken from the first line of the book, where Garner begins to paint the picture of his youth spent largely wishing he was Michael Jordan or some other “perfect” athlete. While the title speaks to the aspirational side of Garner’s childhood, the subtitle addresses the reality. Garner believed he was “carrying the weight of autism.”
Garner’s journey to becoming an author is several years in the making. For years, Garner and his dad would talk about life and their experiences, eventually prompting his dad to encourage him to write.
“Every day we’d have conversations in the car. Dad would say, ‘son, you need to share your story… some of the things you’ve been through,’” Garner said.
After encouragement from his parents, and a little inspiration taken from another Milwaukee-area SOWI athlete named Cindy Bentley who wrote her own book in 2010, Garner set off to tell his own story. He went through the formative memories of his childhood and high school years and worked diligently to get them recorded. For more than two years he would go to the library with his mom to write down his thoughts and memories on the computer. This was often difficult. It’s hard to dedicate yourself to a craft like writing day in and day out. It was also sometimes difficult because it meant revisiting painful memories from childhood.
Garner remembers trying out for basketball in high school and scoring on an opponent. The opposing team didn’t take too kindly to the fact that a student from the special education class scored. Garner remembers an opponent chastising the player who had been defending him: “Hey man! Don’t let him score on you! He’s in the retarded class!”
“I feel blessed to be a published author. If I touch one life I’ll feel like I made a difference.”
Similarly, when Garner went out for high school football as a wide receiver the defensive coach instructed his players to not even cover him since he had an intellectual disability.
While it may be hard to revisit some of these moments, it’s all part of the journey for Garner. These difficult experiences have made him the man he is today just as much as the best ones have.
And boy does he have some great ones. One of Garner’s best memories is from a missionary trip he took with his dad to South Africa in 2008. He visited orphanages and Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for nearly two decades as a political prisoner for opposing South Africa’s apartheid. The people were amazing and the trip really put things in perspective for Garner.
The time he’s experiencing right now is pretty nice too. One of Garner’s favorite things to come out of his book is the way family and friends have reached out to him to get a better understanding of what he went through, as well as autism and other intellectual disabilities. That’s really all he can ask for. “I feel blessed to be a published author. If I touch one life I’ll feel like I made a difference,” Garner said.
“SOWI has given me more courage to do things and more of a sense of purpose.”
Garner is also really hitting his stride with SOWI right now. His basketball team earned the gold medal at the state tournament this past year at the Indoor Sports Tournament in Oshkosh. But it’s been off the court where Garner is really making an impact. He’s now training as a SOWI Athlete Leader, meaning he will be able to participate in all aspects of advancing the Special Olympics movement in Wisconsin. Part of his responsibilities as an Athlete Leader will be to use his voice to advocate on behalf of individuals with intellectual disabilities in the community. It’s pretty clear why this role will be such a natural fit for him.
Garner has been a SOWI athlete since 2005 and he believes it’s changed his life. “SOWI has given me more courage to do things and more of a sense of purpose,” Garner said.
Just this weekend, Garner got to show off some of that courage when he made his first public appearance in promoting his book. He was invited to participate in a book signing at the Barnes & Noble at the Mayfair Mall in Wauwatosa.
While Garner may have spent time wishing he was someone else as a child, now as a published author doing book signings, he’s in a position where so many aspiring writers probably wish they were him.