“Man, that kid hit the jackpot!”

Brady and Andrea Murray have lost track of how many times they’ve heard that phrase, or some variation thereof, when people meet their 11-year-old son, Cooper, and learn his story: that he was four years old when Brady and Andrea found him, abandoned on a street corner in Tianjin, China, because he was born with Down syndrome.

Their response: “It was us who hit the jackpot!”

Meet the Murrays, a 40-something husband and wife who live in Highland, Utah, and have made it their life’s mission to provide families for unwanted kids with special needs, Down syndrome in particular. They have a charity, called RODS Heroes, and it’s not something they get around to on the odd weekend or during the holidays. It has a full-time staff, filled with social media gurus, marketing experts and other communications professionals to push the cause forward 24-7.

And then there’s Brady and Andrea, who aren’t asking anyone to do something they wouldn’t do — or haven’t done — themselves.

To trace back to the origins of RODS — Racing for Orphans with Down Syndrome – you need to rewind to July of 2007 when Nash, the second of the Murrays’ seven children, joined the family.

Ten minutes after he was born, the doctor informed Brady that Nash had Down syndrome, the genetic disorder caused by the appearance of an extra chromosome that dramatically slows down growth rate. As adults, people with Down syndrome typically have the mental capacity of an eight or nine year old.

What people with Down syndrome can teach us about living in the moment

Here’s how Brady tells what happened next:

“I was quite emotional and fearful. I didn’t know what that meant. I took a couple of minutes, gathered myself, took him over to Andrea, who had just gone through labor and given birth, and said, ‘Honey, the doctor told us Nash has Down syndrome.’ Her reaction was the foundation for what our experience has been with Nash. She smiled and said, ‘Great, can I hold my boy?’ And it was like that with her. One of my most cherished pictures is her holding Nash at that moment.”

Andrea Murray and her son, Cooper, 11. Brady and Andrea Murray adopted Cooper when he was 4 years old. | Murray family photo

The Murrays embraced the Down syndrome community as earnestly as they embraced their son.

In learning all he could about Nash’s condition, Brady came across some alarming statistics: in many less developed countries around the world, when a child is born with Down syndrome they are immediately abandoned. He saw photographs of four-year-olds that couldn’t walk because they’d been left in a crib in an orphanage their whole life.

The chances of these kids getting adopted were practically nil.

It became Brady and Andrea’s crusade to do something about that.

In 2011, when Nash was four, they mounted a campaign at Christmastime among family and friends to raise enough money to cover the cost of an international adoption. Then they found a kid in Lithuania with Down syndrome named Eli who was languishing in an orphanage. After that they found a family in Indiana who wanted him.

For all intents and purposes, RODS began right there. The following year, through a series of events others might call coincidences and the Murrays call help from above, the cause for adopting Down syndrome kids received worldwide attention when Brady was invited to compete in the Ironman Triathlon finals in Hawaii and NBC featured the cause in its telecast.

Why the eradication of Down syndrome is genocide

The next year RODS became a certified 501c3 charity.

Two years later, Brady and Andrea joined the roster of families stepping up to give a home to a kid with Down syndrome when they adopted Cooper. They brought him home from China, adding him to their lineup of seven children, two more of whom are also adopted.

“People say how great it is for Cooper,” says Brady. “I mean a kid, living in a city of 14 million people on the other side of the world, left on a street corner, with Down syndrome, how did he end up with a great family in Utah? Yeah, there’s no question it’s a benefit and a blessing for him, but at the end of the day we are the ones getting the greatest blessing, getting that kid as a member of our family. The same goes for our other kids.”

Brady Murray stands next to photographs of his seven children in his office in Lehi on Friday, March 10, 2023. Murray is the founder and president of Racing for Orphans with Down Syndrome (RODS Racing), a nonprofit dedicated to helping orphaned children who have Down syndrome find loving homes. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News

To date, RODS Heroes has arranged for 83 adoptions, including Cooper’s, and each year the number grows larger.

This coming Tuesday, March 21, is World Down Syndrome Day, so named because of the extra 21st chromosome that creates the disorder. To draw awareness, RODS Heroes threw an early pre-party last week to celebrate with other families who have adopted kids with special needs and raise awareness about the cause.

“International adoption of a child with special needs is not for everybody,” Brady said on the occasion. “But there are individuals out there that have been specially prepared to do this, and I’d encourage those individuals, if they feel something in their heart, to explore it because it’s been an incredible miracle for our family.”

For more information, go to the website, rods.org. Their motto says it all: “We Won’t Stop Until Every Child Hero Has a Loving Family.”

And vice versa.

Nash Murray, 15, and his brother, Cooper, 11, sons of Brady and Andrea Murray. | Murray family photo