"It gives hope to all of us that there's more Brees out there, and more coaches and teams like this out there who are going to say, 'Of course, we're going to make a place for you.'"
Editor's note: This article was originally published on May 17, 2021. It has since been updated.
Bree Cox, 14, had some big news to share with the world: She made the high school drill team! The Utah teen went viral on social media when a video of her proudly and excitedly telling her dad about her dream finally coming true tugged at the heartstrings of netizens. Bree, who has Down syndrome, became an inspiration to many as she proved common misconceptions about the condition wrong and paved the way for more individuals with special needs.
Speaking to PEOPLE, the youngster's mom, Kecia Cox, revealed that it's been a "really touching" few weeks since her daughter found out she made the competition dance team at Murray High School. Bree follows in the footsteps of her older sisters, 18-year-old Kyra and 16-year-old Adrie, both of whom she calls her "role models" and played a big role in encouraging her love for dancing. Over the years, she attended every single one of Kyra and Adrie's competitions and memorized all their dances in the hopes that she, too, would be on the team one day. However, Cox—who also shares a 14-year-old daughter named Mia, 9-year-old twins Claire and Livvy, and son Noah, 5, with her husband Kris—admits that she wasn't always sure if Bree's dream would become a reality.
"When Bree saw this new thing — not just classes at the neighborhood dance studio, but they got to be on the football field, and the basketball court and part of the school — that just lit her up in a different way," she explained. "Bree didn't understand that she had a disability, so she saw [Kyra and Adrie] doing things and she was just going to do them too. It almost broke my heart back then, because I really didn't know if she would ever get to do it, and how was I going to explain that to her if she didn't? I don't want to limit her by any means, but I also want to protect her."
"We can shout their worth and their capabilities all day long, but if nobody's willing to listen, then it doesn't really get very far," Cox added. However, she didn't let her concerns stop Bree from pursuing her dream. The family "followed Bree's lead" and continued to encourage the teen. Bree and Adrie practiced their routines together for the auditions and when tryouts finally rolled around, they performed a dance each in front of the judges and coaches. Despite never having been on the team before, Bree says she wasn't nervous.
"She just beams when she dances," Cox recalled. "She just goes in there, doesn't worry about what people think of her, steps on the floor, does what she loves and that's where she's the most at home." Three days after tryouts, both Bree and Adrie learned that they had made the team through individual letters. According to Cox, Bree was initially very calm when she got the news. "When they first told her she made it, she's like, 'I know.' Like no big deal... She was so proud," the 42-year-old revealed. Later that night though, Bree's emotions set in as she relayed the exciting news to her dad. "She's never felt happy tears before," Cox said of the sweet moment that went viral on social media. "She's cried when she's sad. But she was like, 'I'm not sad.' We had no idea that she would get that emotional."
Bree explained that she was only crying because she was so happy and likes "being part of the group."
"We've gone to doctor's appointments this week, and anywhere basically, and she's like, 'Mom, tell them,'" Cox said. "And I said, 'Tell them what?' [She'll say,] 'Tell them about I made the drill team!'" The proud mom hopes her daughter will hold onto that feeling of joy and belonging as she grows older.
"Our greatest hope is that she never feels like she wants to change the fact that she has Down syndrome, or that she's not good enough because she has this disability," Cox explained. "Bree is the happiest when she feels like she belongs and she can do something she loves. To have her be in a situation where she gets to do what she loves, and be accepted, and treated as an equal... We can't really ask for anything else. And that's where she belongs. You fight for your kids with special needs every day, to some degree, because you're their voice. So when these little victories happen, you're like, 'Okay, it's worth it. They're seen by somebody and they're valued.'"
"She doesn't like to talk about it, but she knows that she's different and has different struggles. For her to have this moment where she didn't feel different was worth it all for us. And the fact that she could do it with her sister is huge," Cox added. "It's more than just a spot on the team — not just for our family, but for everybody to see this is possible. It gives hope to all of us that there are more Brees out there, and more coaches and teams like this out there who are going to say, 'Of course, we're going to make a place for you.' People believed in her and saw her, and that's really hard to do with kids with disabilities sometimes. There's plenty of people who are nice, and who are going to be kind and talk to you, but to find a place where you're really seen and believed in is like a whole different world. It's beautiful, and she deserves it."