A Wheatfield musician who plays seven instruments has played clarinet with saxophonist Kenny G and stood at a podium with Olympic gold medalist Kristi Yamaguchi before more than 100,000 people.
But what 31-year-old Sujeet Desai really wants to do is perform and speak before audiences in Western New York.
Desai, who was born with Down syndrome, moved to Wheatfield about a year ago with his parents so they could be closer to his brother and his family. He was active in the Syracuse area, playing at nursing homes and giving inspirational talks at schools.
“I love playing music. It’s my passion,” he said. “My message is to work hard and not give up on their hopes and dreams.”
That’s a message his parents also want to spread in his new hometown.
He started playing violin and piano when he was about 8 years old, said his mother, Dr. Sindoor Desai. She encouraged it because she thought it was therapeutic, developing his hand-eye coordination. She also believes he was developing his multiple intelligences.
When her son was born, doctors told her there was not much that could be done for him, and they advised her to take him home and “do the best you can.” Lack of encouragement may have steeled her resolve to learn as much as she could about the condition, and to concentrate on her son’s abilities.
“We kept learning from him. I always said he’s my teacher,” she said.
Desai has flourished through the years with his music and athletics. He plays B-flat and bass clarinet, alto saxophone, violin, trumpet, piano and drums. He is a second-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, and won gold and silver medals in swimming in the 1999 Special Olympics World Games as well as medals in Special Olympics in Alpine skiing, cross-country running and bowling.
He appeared with Yamaguchi at the opening ceremonies for the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games, where he played the clarinet.
He has his own website, www.sujeet.com.
Desai graduated with honors from Fayetteville-Manlius High School near Syracuse, and from the Berkshire Hills Music Academy in Massachusetts.
He also lives on his own near his parents. He was married in 2006, but sadly, the couple is no longer together and he does not talk about it.
Desai worked as a teacher’s aide for a music department in an elementary school, and teaches a computer class three days a week to learning disabled students at Opportunities Unlimited.
“It’s not a big income, but it is teaching him to be independent,” Sindoor Desai said.
Desai gets some income from performing, and he receives Supplemental Social Security. He also has aides working with him 40 hours a week, his mother said. There are some things he has difficulty with, like balancing a checkbook, and keeping track of time for appointments.
“We want him to settle in one place, to be part of a community where he doesn’t need our help,” she said. “Of course he’s going to need help.”
She and her husband are retired dentists, but they worry about the future for their son.
“Parents of each child of disabilities have nightmares, what will happen to him?” she said. “We still have nightmares, what is going to happen?”
That’s why they want to get the word out in Western New York that Desai is available for concerts, as well as motivational speaking. He’s an international spokesman for Down syndrome who has been to more than 40 states and 13 countries, and has won numerous awards.
Desai’s father helped him design a Power Point for his presentations. He starts his talks by saying: “I am Sujeet Desai and yes, I was born with Down syndrome. However I had dreams like anyone else.”
He still has dreams. His goals are to continue playing music, speaking and inspiring people he meets.
“If I can do it, they can do it. If they believe in themselves,” he said.