Loyola Chicago women’s basketball coach Kate Achter — mom of 10-month-old Reese — wants to change the way people think about Down syndrome

Tribune Content Agency

CHICAGO — Between video conference calls with recruits, Loyola Chicago women’s basketball coach Kate Achter scans her North Side home, assessing the wake her 10-month-old daughter, Reese, left.

“Right now she’s working on crawling and she has just completely destroyed our living room,” Achter said. “We’re learning things aren’t baby-proofed yet.”

Achter and her wife, Tina, call Reese’s achievements “inch stones.” Diagnosed in utero with Down syndrome, Reese’s milestones are celebrated with wonderment.

“Life with Reese is as typical as it would be with any other child,” Achter said. “She achieves things; it just maybe doesn’t fit the typical timeline.”

April usually requires long recruiting trips for college basketball coaches, many nights spent in hotels and jumping from town to town. When sports shut down in mid-March to help contain the spread of the coronavirus, it meant coaches would be recruiting virtually from their homes.

Achter saw a silver lining.

“Of course I miss my team and the ability to push our program forward with recruiting,” Achter said. “But, man, I’m so lucky I get to be home with her.”

A former assistant coach at St. Bonaventure and Xavier, Achter was hired in 2016 to help resurrect Loyola’s program with only two returning scholarship players on the roster and a history of struggles.

Her philosophies align with Loyola men’s coach Porter Moser’s, she said, noting they both recruit “high-character, blue-collar” players who played for winning high school programs. Her team finished 15-14 this season, Achter’s best record in Rogers Park.

“Year by year, we mapped out how we wanted our program to grow,” she said. “It wasn’t going to be a snap of the fingers. It was going to be a grind. … We have a road map for Year 5 — competing for championships. We have the pieces to do that.”

A daughter, niece and granddaughter of high school basketball coaches, Achter and her sister constantly ran around gyms during their dad’s practices in a small town near Toledo, Ohio. She imagines Reese doing the same one day.

“Reese gets to watch me do this and it becomes that much more important to find success and make your child proud,” Achter said. “You want your child to see the right example on the floor. It certainly makes it easier postgame when you come into your office and she doesn’t know if you won or lost. She’s just really happy to see you and wants to eat the box score.”

Achter remembers looking into the Gentile Arena stands last season and spotting Reese’s tiny head with giant noise-canceling headphones.

“Wow. This is my life now,” Achter recalled thinking.

When Reese attends practices, everything stops.

“The players are obsessed with Reese,” Achter said. They buy her Valentine’s Day and Christmas gifts, squeeze her cheeks and play with her. She sits on a mat and ignores her toys, choosing to watch them run back and forth on the court.

Witnessing players react so positively to Reese makes Achter hope her family can serve as an example.

When they were expecting and learned after the 14-week checkup that their baby would have Down syndrome, Achter said Tina “read every book in the Chicago library.” She relied on learning from parents with children with the disorder and began following on Instagram.

Now she feels a responsibility to be a parent leading the way for others.

“We get to be that now,” Achter said. “Not only for those families (with children with Down syndrome) but families who don’t have children with Down syndrome. We feel like it’s our job to help normalize that for Reese but also for kids who are different. Everybody loves Reese and wants to be around Reese. It’s our job to continually remind them, ‘Yeah, you love her now because she’s so cute and smiley. But I want you to remember that and pass it to your kids: It’s OK to be different.’ ”

Reese receives physical and occupational therapy once a week and speech therapy every other week. The family has received support and friendship from Gigi’s Playhouse, a Chicago group for children with Down syndrome and their families. Achter has invited players to a Loyola game.

Achter’s mission is to “turn the ship” at Loyola. She also wants to help change the way people think about Down syndrome.

“Any parent with a child with Down syndrome will tell you it’s like you set off for a vacation to Italy and you ended up in Portugal,” she said. “It’s still a beautiful trip. It just looks a little different from what you thought.”


©2020 Chicago Tribune

Visit the Chicago Tribune at www.chicagotribune.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.