Fans of the Emmy-nominated reality-television series “Born This Way” will recognize Elena Ashmore as one of the featured cast members.
Following the lives of seven young adults who have Down syndrome, the A&E Network show aims to dispel stereotypes about the condition and illustrate that life knows no limitations.
“I love being on the show with this cast because we support each other,” said Ashmore, 29. “They inspire me to be myself.”
Before “Born This Way” filmed its first episode in the summer of 2015, Ashmore said hearing people identify her as someone with Down syndrome felt confining, as if placed in a box.
Instead, she prefers to be called a person with “Up” syndrome, with a more positive connotation. However, since being on the series and around peers who share the same condition, her perspective has changed.
“I feel that you have to be who you are in life, and just be happy,” Ashmore said. “Being labeled a Downs kid has made me feel like I never belonged and people didn’t trust me. They say that I can’t do certain things, but what I’ve learned in doing the show is that you can’t really let anybody bring you down.”
Ashmore’s mother Hiromi agrees.
“My role as a parent has been to help her embrace who she is as much as possible,” Hiromi said. “By me being brought up in the Japanese culture and by her being born into it, it was more difficult for society to accept a person who had DS 30 years ago than it is today.”
For Hiromi, the most difficult thing as a parent with a Down syndrome child has been walking the fine line of being a protector as well as allowing Ashmore to exert her independence.
“During the taping of the show, there was a misunderstanding about me accepting my daughter, but that wasn’t the case,” said Hiromi. “I was trying to convey that I can finally let my daughter go so she can live her own life.”
After living in Japan, Torrance, England, and then Australia, the family came to live in Rolling Hills Estates in 2002. Ashmore attended Peninsula High School, and she was among the first group of students to participate in the “Ready, Willing and Able” dance program led by Liz Cantine. She now lives in Lawndale in a group home.
“That program gave me the first opportunity to be free to be me,” Ashmore said, adding that she took an art class in Rancho Palos Verdes that helped develop her painting skills.
She has also participated in the Special Olympics since 2003 as a swimmer under the coaching of Palos Verdes Estates resident Steve Cooper.
Aspirations for future
Ashmore was selected to be part of the “Born This Way” cast after Victoria Couch, who is a volunteer with the Ican program for people with challenges at Hope Chapel in Hermosa Beach, recommended her to one of the producers of the show.
In addition to coming to terms with her condition, the show has taught Ashmore how to channel her emotions.
“I discovered that I was a little bit more emotional that other people,” she said. “The producer suggested that I write poetry to express my feelings, so I started writing poetry.”
After the show, Ashmore has aspirations to become a personal chef, working alongside Gino D’Acampo, her favorite chef. She also would like to design greeting cards from her poetry and artwork.
“As far as being a celebrity, it feels sensational,” Ashmore said. “People recognize me, and they want to take pictures with me, and they tell me how much I inspire them. It feels nice to hear things like that.”