NORMAN, Okla. (KFOR) –
News 4 embarked on a month-long celebration of remarkable women.
You may recall seeing this nation-wide contest promoted on KFOR recently.
Turns out, there are hundreds of remarkable women in Oklahoma!
We were hard-pressed to narrow down the list from all of the nominations that came pouring in from around the state.
Throughout February we will be highlighting remarkable women, including four finalists who are in the running for the top prize: an all-expenses-paid trip to the Mel Robbins Show in New York City.
Sarah Soell is a mother-of-three who left her high-profile career to serve families with special needs.
Sarah is another finalist in our nationwide contest of Remarkable Women.
During the summer of 2006, Soell was getting excited to meet her little one, a second daughter, who they would name Kerstin Ann.
Two days after the 4th of July, Kerstin was born, with a little something extra: an extra copy of a chromosome, Trisome 21.
Sarah had no idea until that moment her daughter had Down syndrome.
“My husband and I looked at each other and said, ‘What do we do?’ We were completely lost at that time,” Sarah said. “I didn’t know anything about all the health implications or the special needs that went along with Down syndrome.”
Little Kerstin had open heart surgery at four months old.
“From the day she was born I knew that this was going to be a challenge,” Sarah said. “This was going to be hard.”
Sarah found hope at the Down Syndrome Association of Central Oklahoma, where she got involved right away.
“I was determined to make her life better, and then I realized there were other kids just like her,” Sarah said.
This is not a journey Sarah chose for herself or for her daughter.
It is a life she has made remarkable.
Sarah and her husband, Preston Soell, decided early on, they would raise Kerstin just like their other two children; Adaliene is three years older than Kerstin, Koen is three years younger.
The Soell kids are well-traveled and busy, enrolled in all kinds of activities.
At home, they have their own personal farm where Kerstin is mostly in charge of the sheep.
Balancing special needs with a demanding career is tough.
Sarah did it successfully for 17 years at the University of Oklahoma in the marketing department of the president’s office.
She was a rising star at OU until she left to put her family, and 900 others, ahead of her own career goals.
“I’m just doing what my heart was telling me to do, helping somebody out,” Sarah said. “Isn’t that what we’re all supposed to do?”
The Down Syndrome Association of Central Oklahoma needed an executive director.
Sarah accepted the position.
Some would call this kind of a career change a sacrifice. Sarah saw an opportunity.
“I could be their voice. I could be their extra hand. I could be whatever they needed me to be,” she said.
“I’m very proud of the course that she has taken and the devotion she has put into it,” Preston said. “She does a good job at it. I’m proud of her.”
“She loves to help other people,” said Sarah’s daughter, Adliene Soell. “She’s a kind person, and caring, and I think just helping kids with special needs is what she’s meant to do.”
The mission at the Down Syndrome Association of Central Oklahoma is to raise awareness, provide resources and promote inclusion for individuals with down syndrome.
“She makes those around her better,” said Sarah’s co-worker, Hannah Barnthouse. “She elevates everyone around her and just tries to bring out the best in every person.”
Under Sarah’s leadership, the organization has grown, serving 30 percent more families, fundraising more dollars and attracting more volunteers.
“(She is) working to make this world a better place, not just for her daughter, but for everyone who might be like her daughter,” said Sarah’s co-worker, Rachel Leonard.
“She is the most remarkable, amazing person,” said volunteer Heather Hancock. “(She is) my best friend. I know (that) in my heart.”
Sarah is tireless, finding a joy and wonder in every obstacle.
In a world quick to marginalize the challenged, Sarah is rewriting the playbook for her daughter and so many like her.