VILONIA — The Goodwin quadruples of Vilonia are used to doing most everything together.
They play together, they eat together and they all share the same classroom at Vilonia Elementary School. And, they will all share in the activities at the 13th annual First Security Conway Kids Triathlon to be held today.
However, one will be sitting on the sideline cheering the other three on as they swim, bike and run to the finish lines.
Eight-year-old siblings Elijah, Lauren, Gabriel and Matthew Goodwin have been in training for the triathlon for a while, said Hope Goodwin, mother of the quads.
"Our goal is to just finish the race," she said.
Actually the training, she said, was an excuse to just have some fun.
Only three of the children, Lauren, "Gabe" and "Matt" plan to actually swim 50 yards, ride a bike for two miles and finish up with a half-mile run. "Eli" will sit on the sidelines and without a doubt be cheering his siblings on to victory, Mrs. Goodwin said.
"He is physically unable, at this time, to do everything," Mrs. Goodwin explained.
Eli, she said, was born with a form of cerebral palsy. However, she said, he shouldn’t be considered down and out for the count.
"You don’t need to cut Eli much slack," she said. "He’s an intelligent and very active child. He just has some physical limitations. But, we consider every day with Eli, really with all of our children, as a miracle."
This week, the four were observed playing together. There was some noise but there was no apparent fighting, teasing and no need for a mom referee.
"It’s like having a bunking party every day," Mrs. Goodwin said, as Lauren passed by wearing a backpack and carrying a quilt with a couple of her brothers in town.
The mom explained that her children like to go on imaginary camping trips, hold imaginary school with Eli as the teacher and play as though they have a veterinary practice with Lauren as the doctor.
"They like to play together but they all like to play different," she said. "They have become very individual people with likes and dislikes."
Gabe began reading at age 3, and he’s very competitive. He’s leaning toward the mission field. His mother describes him as soft-hearted and a giving child. He and Matt, Mrs. Goodwin said, are generally in cahoots on shenanigans as well as other projects. They have co-authored a book. Matt has also written a Gospel song and has a goal to have it played on the radio. His mother said he has a knack for giving massages. Lauren is a quiet and shy child. She is also very compassionate and loves animals and wants to be a zookeeper, according to her mother.
"As the only girl, she rules," Mrs. Goodwin said. "But, if one gets hurt, she is also there."
Eli wants to be a therapist. He also has a fascination with flags and collects them and studies about them using the Internet. Prior to 5, Mrs. Goodwin said, he had a phobia though regarding them. The parents had to refrain from purchasing gasoline at one service station because a flag was installed on the grounds. Also, they had to sit on the back pews at church due to flags being at the front of the room.
"At the time, he was non-verbal and I don’t know if it was the stimulation of the colors and designs or what," she said. "But, now he has gone in a different direction and simply loves them."
All of the children love music especially bluegrass and they all sing.
A stranger notices a handwritten sign on the refrigerator with rotating assignments including cleaning the dishes. Each child is required to pickup bedrooms, make beds and fold laundry and put away on a daily basis. When asked about the workload, Mrs. Goodwin said the laundry is the worse chore but she said she counts her blessings that she is allowed to be a stay-at-home mother.
Her load, she said, is also lighter due to a supportive family including her husband Jimmy and three very giving women, her mother Laura Howell, her aunt, Pat Dallas and her mother-in-law Sandy Goodwin.
At that point, Howell, who is listening, interjects that her son-in-law is a "wonderful Christian husband." Many times, Mrs. Goodwin also made reference to her faith and to her church family at First Baptist in Vilonia.
On a lighter side, she joked about the family visiting every "Kids Eat Free" restaurants almost putting them out of business. They shop in bulk. Once, while shopping, Mr. Goodwin was asked if he ran a daycare. To which he jokingly answered that he does.
"Every year, there is just another stage," she said. "We were so happy when they came off of formula and pull-ups."
Ultimately, she said, her entire life changed when she first learned she would be giving birth to multiples. Explaining, she said, she had undergone in vitro fertilization after attempts to conceive proved fruitless. She and her husband Jimmy were told by a doctor when she was seven weeks along they would be having twins.
"At 9 weeks, we were told there were four of them," she offered, also providing details of a 31-week pregnancy.
"It was a complicated pregnancy and very high risk. We almost had to deliver a couple of times. We had a 32 week goal and we made it to 31 weeks."
The four were born June 18, 2002. Eli weighed 2 pounds and 1 ounce; Gabe 2 pounds and 9 ounces; Lauren, 3 pounds and 3 ounces and Matt, 3 pounds and 1 ounce.
Eli and Gabe, she said, shared a placenta, "an unborn baby’s life-support system" with one receiving too much blood and the other not enough. At one point, Gabe, who had an enlarged heart, was given no chance of survival, she said. And, the prediction was also bleak for Eli with a 10 percent chance of survival, as well as a prediction that he would not be able to walk or talk. By delivery time, Gabe’s heart decreased to a normal size and his health turned around.
The first few months of life was trying for all of the children. At one time, she had two children hospitalized at UAMS at Little Rock and two at the Conway Medical Center. The two at Conway contracted Group B strep after being released from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
While the other three siblings appeared to outgrow any and all health issues and excel, Eli’s troubles continued through his toddler years. As he slowly progressed, his mother said, he also appeared frustrated. His mother said there were "head-banging" issues, and he wasn’t able to speak. One month before his fifth birthday, his life took a turn for the better with a breakthrough in vocalization.
"He started talking," she said. "His daddy said a prayer at dinner time and at the end of the prayer, Eli said, amen. It was a beautiful thing."
That year, Mrs. Goodwin said she also heard her son say, "I love you" for the first time.
As far as the greatest lesson that Mrs. Goodwin has learned as a result of having quads, she said, "don’t sweat the small stuff."
"It’s okay if everything isn’t put away," she said. "That was a hard lesson for me to comprehend at first."
As far as the triathlon, Goodwin said, it is just another phase of her children’s life. She anticipates you may hear more good things from them as they grow into teens and young adults.
"They have big ambitions," their mother said.