Most people are lucky if have one date to prom — Gabby Horner-Shepherd had two.
The 21-year-old Port Dover, Ont. resident was born with a chromosome abnormality and was not expected to make it to her prom. Her condition has left her with physical and mental disabilities.
When she was born, doctors told her parents she would be lucky if she lived past her second birthday.
That’s why her mother Shannon Horner-Shepherd put out a call via Facebook to find the perfect date for her daughter’s special night.
In a video posted on the social media platform, the 21-year-old waved to viewers as her mom explained they were looking for a special someone that would be willing to accompany Gabby.
“I have spent 21 years trying to give Gabby a life that is as close to ‘normal’ as possible despite she is not what the world would see as ‘normal’, but it is at times like this that her differences become apparent,” Shannon Horner-Shepherd wrote in a post. “I would LOVE this prom to be one of those times where she is remembered by everyone whose lives she has touched in high school. And to truly make it the BEST NIGHT EVER for Gabby!”
The family had around 20-25 responses to the video, but chose Zack Bowman, an OHL hockey player originally from St. Catharines, Ont.
Bowman said he came across the video on his Facebook feed and felt compelled to get in touch being moved by Gabby’s story.
“Gabby is brave, beautiful and a fighter,” he said. “Gab’s ability to continuously defy all odds makes her an incredible person. I had to message Shannon and at least try. I was very fortunate to be picked as Gabby’s date.”
OPP officer Jeremy Renton, who knew Gabby prior to her quest for a prom date, also joined Bowman as her second date.
Bowman, also 21, said it was an emotional night for everyone.
“The most beautiful moment I’ve ever seen was when Shannon and Gabby were dancing together at the end of the night,” he said. “Officer Jeremy Renton said to me ‘that’s what it’s all about.’ Tears started coming out of my eyes for sure.”
Since the prom on June 1, Bowman said been inspired to do more for the special needs community. He plans to throw a charity ball hockey tournament to raise funds that will support his new friend and others like her.
“Our goal is to give special needs people like Gabby a safe place to go develop skills in which support workers and staff can be less needed, creating more independent individuals. Unfortunately our system that’s in place doesn’t offer that,” he said.
“At this point our goal is to raise enough to buy Gabby a service dog… Shannon will tell me where [she] and Gabby would like the money to go. All proceeds will be directed towards the special needs community.”
In a recent Facebook post, Shannon Horner-Shepherd thanked Bowman and Renton for their act of kindness.
“There are NO WORDS that can describe the whirlwind of emotion that overcame me last night watching you two amazing gentlemen with my daughter,” she wrote. “To see the pure joy on her face when she was dancing with you was more than I could have ever hoped for. You saw past her disability and unconditionally accepted her as the incredible young woman she is and for that I will be forever indebted to you.”
She also encouraged those who are interested in following any of Gabby’s future adventures, to add her as a friend on Facebook.