WHEATFIELD – Sujeet Desai plays seven instruments and has traveled the world performing in 13 countries as well as nearly every state in the U.S.
He has been honored by foreign dignitaries and competed internationally and won medals in the World Summer Special Olympics for swimming.
He has appeared on “Oprah,” “The View” and “20/20.”
He even has a second-degree black belt in tae kwon do.
The list goes on and on. At 32, he has accomplished more than most do in a lifetime.
And he has done it all after being born with Down syndrome.
“The main thing is not to give up,” Desai said of the message he tries to instill through his music. “You really need to find the beauty within a person – not how they look. True beauty.”
Desai, well-spoken and friendly, is a native of Syracuse, where he was a fixture in the Syracuse community, performing free concerts and offering motivational speeches in schools and nursing homes and before community groups. He moved here two years ago, following his parents to the Niagara Falls area.
His next goal – in addition to getting his third-degree black belt – is to spread his message of music, motivation and acceptance to Western New Yorkers.
He will perform a free holiday concert at 4:30 p.m. next Sunday in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 400 Ridge St., Lewiston. In addition to performing solos on clarinet, violin, alto saxophone and piano, he will perform duets with guest musicians and educate the audience on how he has worked to overcome the limitations of his disability.
His biggest fan and his manager is his mother, Dr. Sindoor Desai. She and her husband, Dr. Shard Desai, both natives of India, are retired Syracuse-area dentists. They moved to the area to be closer to their other son, Ninad, and their grandchildren. Sujeet relocated with them.
But the move also brought changes for Sujeet, who for the first time, with the help of a support staff, has been able to live in his own house and is starting to learn to drive. He also has a job teaching computer skills to clients at Opportunities Unlimited.
But Sindoor Desai said her son is still building his musical reputation in Western New York. His Lewiston concert will be his first in Niagara County.
She speaks of her son’s abilities, not disabilities, and is an outspoken advocate reaching out to other parents.
“Whatever you can expose them to is good,” she said, noting that he began playing violin at age 9 to increase hand-eye coordination.
Learning the clarinet and swimming taught him breath control, which was good for his facial muscles and speech.
“I think multiple intelligences is unknowingly what Sujeet uses,” she said, adding that when they travel, she’s the one who gets lost, not her son. And she freely admits that he’s much better with computers than she is.
“I want to tell people this can be done,” she said. “Thirty-two years ago when he was born, there was no inclusion. I fought for him. I wrote papers. They were not going to even allow him to go to the dentist, so I did his root canal when he broke a tooth when he was 3.”
And he has taken learned skills much further than anyone could have imagined. He has performed all over the world and won swimming silver and gold medals in the individual and relay events in the World Summer Special Olympics in 1999.
Sujeet said he loves living in the Buffalo area, the Buffalo Bills and being on his own. He said he also loves swing and jazz, and he recently joined a jazz trio.
“As far as music – he’s top of the world,” said Sindoor Desai.