2009 ushers in role changes for MDA's Dynamic Duo
Upon first seeing Billy Gilman and Luke Christie together, it’s impossible not to notice their special brand of camaraderie.
They ham it up, casting one-liners off each others’ remarks, their rapport and comedic timing guaranteed to get a laugh. Through their work for MDA, they’ve formed a bond of friendship, and more. In so many ways, they both enthuse, they’re like brothers.
Now Gilman and Christie — affectionately dubbed by MDA staffers as “Double Trouble,” the “Dynamic Duo,” the “Awesome Twosome” and the “Splendiferous Spokesmen” — have assumed exciting new roles with the Association as they continue their commitment to raising public awareness of muscular dystrophy and other muscle-wasting diseases.
Singing sensation Gilman, 20, who finished up his sixth term as MDA National Youth Chairman in December, has taken on the role of MDA Celebrity Ambassador. Christie, 15, a two-time MDA National Goodwill Ambassador (2006, 2007) and 2008 Harley-Davidson MDA Goodwill Ambassador, has stepped in to fill the youth chairman spot vacated by his good friend.
Both have embraced their new roles with all the enthusiasm and vitality for which they’re known. To say they’re thrilled to be continuing on with MDA would be a massive understatement.
Gilman — a humanitarian voice
For the charismatic and personable Grammy-nominated singer from Rhode Island, the opportunity to continue broadcasting MDA’s message to as many people as possible comes as something of a relief.
“I lived in fear of the day MDA would say, ‘Thank you, that’s it,’” Gilman explains with a playful grin, his tone leaving no doubt as to his sincerity. “This is a wonderful change, and I’m so happy they kept me on!”
As youth chairman, Gilman traveled the country educating thousands of young adults and teenagers about MDA’s fight to defeat neuromuscular diseases. He made appearances at major gatherings of MDA national sponsors such as DECA (an association of marketing students) and ERA Real Estate, and helped spread MDA’s message of hope through media interviews and appearances at MDA events.
Gilman also performed and hosted youth segments on the Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon. The past six years, he says, have been “such a great, great journey.”
His new role as celebrity ambassador will allow him to “go in at more of an adult level,” a difference he acknowledges as “exciting and important.”
Gilman says he loves being a part of MDA at a time when so much progress is being made, such as the approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration of the lifesaving enzyme Myozyme (used to treat children and adults with Pompe disease), and recent encouraging progress in Duchenne muscular dystrophy research.
“It’s happening so fast now,” he says, likening it to a career, where “you work so hard for something, and nothing ever comes along until that one specific time period, and then it just starts coming. Bing, bing, bang.
“It’s so gratifying,” he adds, “for me to be the one to go to contributors and tell them, ‘This is what’s coming.’”
Gilman draws inspiration from the people served by MDA. “Knowing all that they face, and yet they smile ... it amazes me every time,” he says, adding that his experiences as youth chairman taught him to be thankful for what he has, to work harder and to be a better person.
“We’re responsible for lives,” he explains. “With music you’re responsible for moods, but at MDA we’re responsible for lives, and for the comfort we can bring to lives. I plan to work harder and better, and address who we need to address with more focus and more drive, because that’s where I can make a difference.”
Christie — from busy to busier
As someone whose activities include local community theater, Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA), the Three Dot Dash global initiative for promoting peace, and Boy Scouts, where he’s achieved the rank of Star, high school student Christie is the very definition of the word busy — and that’s before you throw in his MDA commitments over the past three years.
In the time he’s served MDA, Christie’s travels have taken him to San Francisco; San Diego, where he enjoyed a special day at Sea World; and Houston, where he mingled with CITGO representatives at an Astros game. In Milwaukee, he visited Harley-Davidson corporate offices and the Miller Brewing Company, and attended the 2007 Black & Blue Ball. In addition, he has made stops in Marco Island, Fla.; Tucson, Ariz.; the Ride for Life event near Philadelphia, and, of course, the MDA Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon in Las Vegas.
“It was phenomenal — I loved every minute,” Christie says. “It was amazing to travel to all these wonderful places, to meet people and have the opportunity to network, and to see firsthand what MDA does and how they do it.”
Christie finds special significance in assuming Gilman’s youth chairman role at this time.
“I’m really excited because of my involvement with other organizations like FBLA and Three Dot Dash,” he says. “A lot of what I’m doing now is trying to motivate young people my age, in the tween and teen years, to get involved with meaningful work.”
(Three Dot Dash was inspired by the peace work and poetry of another MDA Goodwill Ambassador, Mattie J.T. Stepanek, who served from 2002 until his death in 2004. Stepanek and Billy Gilman were close friends.)
Being youth chairman will be “a learning experience, a growing experience,” Christie says, that will allow him to continue working directly with young people.
He has a definite message he wants to impart: “You’ve got to be true to who you are, accept who you are as a person and be OK with yourself — don’t worry about being too big, or too skinny, or too small, or unable to do something because you have leg braces or are in a wheelchair. If you can’t be OK with yourself as a person, there’s no way you can help other people. To be peaceful, we all have to be OK with who we are and then help our neighbors. Just like MDA, we can work together to find a cure for any imperfection.”
Christie can’t wait to get started. “I’m a youth activist, what can I say? That’s it. That’s why this role is perfect for me!”