Something magical happens each time Canaan Sandy steps through the gate at Silver Dollar City – joy abounds and smiles spread to fellow visitors.
“These are my friends; these are my family,” he says as he trots happily past the park’s candy store. He hollers and waves to a nearby group of guests, “Hey, everybody! You having fun today? I’m going to ride Fire In The Hole!”
The five-minute walk to that attraction takes a lot longer for Canaan
“Well, that’s because he stops and gives every single person a high-five or a hug,” laughs Canaan’s mom, Ginger. “He is thoughtful to take that time to make each person feel special.”
And Canaan certainly does have a way to make folks feel special. On this day, he gleefully chants “Fire In The Hole! Fire In The Hole!” as he marches down the hill, inviting fellow guests to join him.
When it comes to spreading kindness, his mom says Canaan doesn’t give up.
That history of resilience began the day he was born with a hole in his heart 41 years ago.
Danny and Ginger Sandy would learn their son also had Down Syndrome and blocked intestines. He’d have open-heart surgery and a major intestinal repair by the time he was three months old.
The Sandys spent most of Canaan’s first three years in and out of hospitals. As he grew older, Ginger says she didn’t discuss a diagnosis with him.
“I told him he was ‘forever young,’ and that’s all we’ve ever said about it,” she explains. “I think putting a label on him would have caused unnecessary confusion. We just let Canaan be Canaan!”
The Sandy family has enjoyed trips to Silver Dollar City since Canaan was five years old and are so thankful for rides they can enjoy together. For them, the sum of the park’s greatness is equal parts what it has to offer and how it makes you feel.
“We aren’t fancy people,” Ginger says. “We have no talent, no money, but here we are treated like family. I think – in life – people tend to push others away. At Silver Dollar City, staff lets the love in.”
Canaan is not only a Silver Dollar City superfan, he’s also a history-making fan of the Arkansas Razorbacks. In fact, in 2014, he was elected to ESPN’s Fan Hall of Fame after being selected from thousands of entries. His picture and name are now engraved into a stadium seat at the ESPN headquarters in Bristol, CT.
Canaan is always calling the Hogs! The University of Arkansas gave his family lifetime tickets to all sporting events. He’s been invited to throw out the first pitch at a baseball game and even helped score a touchdown in a coordinated play during the team’s annual Red-White scrimmage.
Canaan, who is usually sporting a Razorbacks shirt of some sort, giggles as he makes his way to Fire in the Hole and encourages staff to call the Hogs.
“His fandom never stops,” Ginger laughs. “It’s hard to believe I was so worried all those years ago about what kind of life he’d have. Just look at him! During dark days, lights beam even brighter. This four-foot-eleven guy shines for so many. Thank you, Silver Dollar City, for loving him.”