South River juniors share compassionate natures
Capital - 5/26/2018
Alex and Zach Brown share many passions and interests.
While the South River High School juniors are fraternal twins, they're more like best friends.
They are junior class Student Government Association officers. Each is a member of Best Buddies. They also volunteer at Wellness House in Annapolis and South River Shooters basketball camp. They coach adaptive lacrosse and Special Olympics track and field, and play on South River's Unified Tennis team.
Alex is a member of the varsity basketball and lacrosse teams, and is the captain of South River's Relay for Life team, which hosts the overnight event at the high school June 1-2. Zach is a member of the team. She is also the captain of South River's Maryland State Police Polar Bear Plunge team, which raised $41,040 this year for Maryland Special Olympics.
A friend in elementary school had Down syndrome, which sparked the teens' desire to help people born with the condition. They are also friendly with Rosa Marcellino, inspiration for Rosa's Law, a 2010 United States law that replaces several instances of "mental retardation" in law with "intellectual disability." A similar law was also passed in Maryland.
Zach used to eat lunch with Rosa every day when they attended the same school. Their friendship inspired the twins to become involved in adaptive lacrosse for athletes with mental or physical disabilities, their coaching and training of Special Olympics athletes, and their activities together as camp counselors in three summer camp programs.
Zach is involved in the Arlington Echo Friendship Camp, which focuses on science, biology and protecting wildlife; and he holds a part-time weekend job with the traveling truck eatery Two Guys & A Grill.
As children, they had a secret knock-on-the-wall code and would communicate long after they were supposed to be asleep.
When Zach was 10-years-old, he suffered two serious strokes. The strokes caused paralysis on the left side of his body and the right side of his face. He had to use a wheelchair until he relearned how to walk. He lost his hearing for a year and, during that time, had to learn how to talk again.
The strokes were the result of a condition called cavernous hemangiomas, a collection of burst or irregular vessels in the brain stem, spine or other areas of the body. They resemble mulberries. Zach's were - and still are - in his brain stem.
"It's classified as a rare disease," he said. "There are no medical or surgical options. I had to give up lacrosse, football and wrestling - but I play rec league basketball. One in 500 people have this disease, but its chance of bleeding and affecting you is rare."
Though he can no longer play some of his favorite sports, Zach is a member of the "Hawks Squad," the school's booster club, which cheers for the Seahawks.
Alex, who never lets Zach forget she is much older than he is - by two minutes - became his "second mom." She'd help wheel him through their elementary school's hallways, assist with his physical therapy, and translate for him when he couldn't hear or speak.
Five years ago, with their mother, Zach formed the Zach Brown 5K for Angioma Alliance. The Angioma Alliance, a nonprofit, has chapters in 49 states and eight other countries.
The Zach Brown annual 5K runs have raised over $100,000 for the Angioma Alliance's efforts to fund research for a cure.
Over the past 10 years, Zach aided another cause. He's raised more than $10,000 by having his head shaved during St. Baldrick's events each February in Annapolis. The St. Baldrick's shave-a-thon events nationwide help fund childhood cancer research.
Since freshman year, Alex has been vice president of the school's Kids Fighting Cancer Club. She noted an uncle had brain cancer, a cousin was diagnosed with Hodgkin's leukemia, and maternal grandparents suffered with lung and colon cancers. The club members raise funds for cancer research.
English instructor and Snohawks plunge team sponsor Mary Kokosko said the twins are a dynamic duo.
"Alex is an extraordinary young lady - the type of student that a teacher will come across only a handful of times in their career. She is intelligent, self-motivated, genuine and altruistic," Kokosko said. "She is a born leader. On top of it all, Alex always has a smile on her face. Her kindness is genuine and her smile is infectious."
"You can always find Zach front and center of the student section at our sporting events as he is one of the most spirited students at South River High School. He is dressed from head-to-toe in whatever the theme is for that night, and he is leading the cheers for our Seahawks."
In April, Zach received the Prudential Spirit of Community Service Award. The award, a $1,000 scholarship, is given to one teen from each state. The awardees receive an all-expenses-paid, four-day trip with a parent to Washington, D.C., to meet the other awardees and attend the ceremony.
Alex was one of three students selected from South River High, and nearly 70 juniors from public and private high schools in the county, who received the 2018 High School Outstanding Student Achievers Award sponsored by Capital Gazette Communications and the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce.
Annapolis resident Glen Carr met the two through Special Olympics team activities. His daughter, Susanna, participates in weekly track and field training and events.
"I have never met such compassionate and giving teenagers like the two of them, who are involved in so many community charities," Carr said. "Each week, Alex and Zach attend practices and lead groups of Special Olympic athletes in running drills. They pay attention to each athlete, know them by name, give tips and encouragement.
"They have left such a great impression on me. I am a big fan of these two, because of their compassion and impact they have on the community and for the lives they have touched."
When asked if they planned to attend the same college, the twins spoke in unison: "Probably not!"
Alex is mulling a major in the medical field. Zach would like to study business, finance or political science.
"I want to get a good education to change the world," he said.
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Caption: Alex and Zach Brown, 17, fraternal twins and juniors at South River High School, are involved in a number of service organizations, Unified Tennis and Best Buddies.
Wendi Winters/Capital Gazette