Breanna Bogucki was on her way home from school earlier this year when her mom cued up a song by rock band O.A.R. on the car stereo.
“Do you know them?” Mary Ellen Bogucki asked her 17-year-old daughter, who nodded yes. “What about Cody Simpson?” Another enthusiastic nod. “Well, you’ve been invited by
It was a dream come true for Breanna, a talented singer who goes by Bree. Born with autism, she has competed in nine consecutive Special Olympics state championships.
In March, Bogucki flew to Los Angeles to meet O.A.R. lead singer Marc Roberge, Simpson and Madison Tevlin, a 13-year-old Canadian woman with Down syndrome who became a viral YouTube sensation earlier this year. They teamed up to record “Reach Up”, an uplifting anthem encouraging people of all abilities to never give up.
Watch the music video below, or stream it on Spotify.
Roberge, who wrote the song with Nathan Chapman and Kevin Kadish, was inspired by Tevlin’s YouTube cover of John Legend’s “All of Me,” which has racked up nearly 7 million views.
“For me, this covered so many bases of why I love to write and record songs,” said Roberge, who has family members with Down syndrome. “It was a no-brainer, and an exciting challenge to put together a song that could accomplish so many things.”
The leadoff track from O.A.R.’s 2014 album, The Rockville LP, provided the foundation for “Reach Up.” Conceptually, it was inspired by Special Olympics Unified Sports – a program that brings athletes with and without intellectual disabilities together to compete on the same team.
“When they described what they were looking for with ‘Reach Up’, I felt the music of ‘Two Hands Up’ was perfect,” Roberge said, “but the lyrics needed to be rewritten.”
Roberge’s wife offered a constructive critique of his first draft. “She kept saying, ‘Don’t write a song for Special Olympics… write it for Madison, Bree, you and Cody. Write something that will make you happy and inspire others.’ That was a big turning point because I realised that when you project honestly, others will see it that way, too.”
“We gave it a different shape and a different reality,” Roberge said. “What began in Nashville with O.A.R. took on a new life with Madison, Bree and Cody in L.A.”
Tevlin asked to record her vocals first. She was nervous initially, but her collaborators – and her mom – put her at ease.
“I remember her mum saying, ‘Madison just be yourself,” Roberge recalls. “Have fun, smile and do it the way you’d do at home.’ After that, she seemed to almost forget there was a microphone in front of her… she was singing for the love of singing. I remember watching her and having a smile I couldn’t control. By the end of the day, my cheeks were tired. It felt like Thanksgiving.”
“Music makes me feel happy inside,” she adds. “To me, music is love, life and family. I want to inspire everyone to believe they can make their dreams come true.”
Bogucki and Tevlin became fast friends, and their positive attitudes were contagious during a few long days in the studio.
“Without Bree or Madison, there would be no ‘Reach Up,’” Roberge said. “When we’d get tired, Madison would do something to make us all smile and keep us going. And Bree is such a positive person who’s up for any challenge and wants to be part of something bigger than herself.”
Mary Ellen Bogucki, Bree’s mom, credits Special Olympics with boosting her self-confidence and providing her with a community of welcoming friends and supporters. Due to a range of sensory issues, Bree didn’t leave the house much until she joining Special Olympics at age 9.
“When you find out your child has Autism, the first thing you want to do is protect them, but that’s actually the worst thing you can do,” Mary Ellen said. “We realised we needed to constantly challenge her so she could grow. Special Olympics has literally changed her life.”
The entire group will return to Los Angeles on July 25 to perform “Reach Up” at the Special Olympics World Games – the city’s biggest gathering since the 1984 Olympic Games. More than 7,000 athletes from 177 countries will compete in the games, which is expected to attract 80,000 spectators.
“When you see a montage of Special Olympics athletes, their hands are usually in the air… they’re celebrating,” Roberge said. “We want to make sure everyone identifies this song with that image and these inspiring athletes who face challenges head-on and beat them through joy, hope and achievement.”
Fans can support Special Olympics by sharing the “Reach Up” music video on social media using the hashtag #ReachUp.