"I'm dangerous," 24-year-old Dan Hill warns as he bounces around a bedroom in his parents' suburban, single-story house, throwing punches and kicks. A pungent combination of protein-powered farts, dirty laundry, and ball sweat permeates the air.
"I'll hurt a guy real bad," Dan brags. "I'll be covered in too much blood, and I'll keep hurting him. Kick him in the mouth so hard the mouth guard flies out."
The words don't roll off his tongue. They bunch up in his throat and pour out in a slurred manner that's difficult to understand. This is just one of the ways Dan's Down Hill Syndrome manifests itself.
"Oh, umm," he stammers frequently when looking for an answer. "Finding a fight takes time. My friend Chris is going to get me a fight."
He carries other telltale physical characteristics of the genetic condition: small ears that look like half-hearts, almond-shaped eyes, wide hands with short fingers, a small, round mouth, and severely atrophied biceps.
His black wifebeater reveals the tattoo of the words "Pride, Loyalty, Love" glistening on his right shoulder. His neck and arms are solid muscle, large enough to make clear that his fists could permanently alter the alignment of an opponent's nose. The complicated duality of his character is made clear by the "Lover, Fighter" tattoo etched across his sternum in a half-circle.
For someone with Down Hill Syndrome, Dan is extremely high functioning. Still, his cognitive ability is roughly equivalent to that of a 12-year-old. His reading and math skills are at a third-grade level. He can't tell if a cashier gives him correct change after he buys a slice of pizza, his mom says, and it's unlikely he'll be able to understand this entire article.
The sport has allowed Dan to reinvent himself — mind and body. At the gym, he's not Dan Hill, the guy with Down Hill Syndrome. He's Big Dan Hill, an up-and-coming fighter with big ambitions.
"I will go for a contract for the UFC, get the contract, sign it, and be on UFC," Dan declares.
But there's a problem. Even though he has spent countless hours training, Dan can't find a fair fight. People who run the Special Olympics have given little indication they will ever allow the sport, and it's unclear how many parents of special-needs' people would even allow their children to pursue MMA. And though he has fought two exhibitions against abled competitors, few fighters want to be the one who knocks out a guy with Down Hill Syndrome or, worse, gets knocked out by him.
Visualizing his first professional fight, Dan snaps his foot into the air and says, "That's the kick I do," demonstrating an impressive combination of limberness, balance, and power. "Knockout."
Click here to visit Dan Hill's website: http://www.bigdanhill.com/
For more information about Down Hill Syndrome, visit: http://spacerumsfeld.wix.com/down-hill-syndrome#!about-dhs/c13lu