JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - An extraordinary moment for a young man that is one-of-a-kind. In fact, you could say that Clay Band, of Jonesboro, is unlike anyone else in the world.
But, it was not a medical diagnosis that brought a crowd to their feet in a standing ovation at a recent belt testing for the Joey Perry Martial Arts Academy.
"Clay comes to every tournament, event, and belt testing," Kelly Perry said. "Everyone at JPMAA knows and loves Clay."
Perry and her husband, Joey Perry, founder of the academy, decided to surprise a very unsuspecting Clay at the end of the last belt graduation ceremony with his very own gold belt.
"I want to thank everyone for coming out today for belt-testing and supporting our students. And, we have one more belt to give away," Joey Perry said.
Clay Band sat in his father's lap listening. Clay wore a cap on his head that is missing hair. His small frame relaxed and appearing much younger. But, looks are deceiving. At thirteen years old, he has surpassed what doctors told his parents to expect.
"He has a chromosomal disorder and he is the only child in the world with it," Elizabeth Band, Clay's mother, said. "It's Trisomy 10, Monosomy 2. We were told he wouldn't live a year, and here he is about to turn 14. He's my hero."
Clay has watched hundreds of children receive awards and martial arts belts. His eyes scanning the crowd searching for his younger sister. Over the years, Alex, Clay's sister, has raised belt after belt high into the sky in celebration moving up the ranks as a martial arts student. Her brother always watching from the crowd--never upset to be a spectator in the midst of so many children laughing, running and jumping with joy over their accomplishments.
"Each day that Clay comes into the studio he has a huge smile when he sees Kelly and myself and claps his hands with joy. He is simply happy to be there and see us," Joey Perry said. "He even wears a karate uniform at events with a white belt to show support for his little sister and be a part of what JPMAA does."
"It is super hard to try and put into words how I feel about Clay Band," Kelly Perry said. "What an amazing kid he is! He has this energy and sweet spirit and you can feel it when he enters a room. No matter what kind of day I'm having, when Clay walks in and yells, 'Kelly!' everything wrong and bad in the world has just been made right."
For three years now, Clay has been attending classes at JPMAA, as well as seminars, tournaments, and belt graduations," Joey Perry said. "Clay is not able to participate, due to his one-of-a-kind-in-the-world disease."
Back to the scene at Jonesboro High School and the belt graduation. Mr. Perry beckons Clay and his father, Billy Band, from the stands. Slowly, Clay makes his way across the gym floor as people begin to stand, then clap and tears begin to flow. Mrs. Perry takes Clay by the hand and leads him to her husband who makes the gold belt presentation. He takes a gold belt from its packaging and wraps it around Clay's waist, knotting it just right and turns him around. The crowd is still clapping.
"I wanted to honor Clay for his spirit, love, and constant support--of not only his sister--but for our program, as well," Joey Perry said. "It was time for Clay to get rid of that white belt he wears and be awarded a 'promotion' to a gold belt! Our students earn rank by, not only performing physical moves and self- defense but also by showing respect and warrior spirit daily."
"It means so much to our family that so many people have touched Clay's life in so many ways," Mrs. Band said. "One of his favorite things to do is support his sister, as she travels the state and country competing in tournaments. She is his greatest idol. Joey Perry made it possible for him to be a little bit more like his idol."
The spotlight inside the gym at that moment was all Clay's. He looked around solemnly and took it all in. The clapping, the smiles, and the tears--all seemed to fit as snugly as the new golden belt wrapped tight around his waist.
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