New goodwill ambassador 'thrilled and prepared'
Viewers of the MDA Jerry Lewis Telethon on Labor Day were charmed by him. So much so that MDA has selected Luke Christie of Due West, S.C., to serve as MDA’s 2006 National Goodwill Ambassador.
The only thing larger than Luke’s personality is his devotion to the Association, which is why Luke, 12, and his family are eager to tour the nation this year to represent those served by MDA and their families.
With great enthusiasm, Luke, who’s definitely not shy, will inform the nation of MDA’s mission by attending fundraisers and sponsor gatherings, and taking the starring role in MDA’s national promotional materials.
What does Luke think of this honor?
“I’m really, really excited. It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do, a dream of mine,” exclaimed the seventh-grader at Cherokee Trail Elementary in Donalds. “I know it’s a big role and that it’s a lot to take on. I’m thrilled and prepared to take that on.”
A dream come true
The Christies joined the MDA family when Luke was a toddler and received a diagnosis of type 2 spinal muscular atrophy (SMA).
As he got older, the progressive disease took away his muscular strength and caused his bones to weaken and break easily. But these setbacks didn’t dampen Luke’s spirits and desire to help other people.
He just received a new power wheelchair and welcomes the freedom of mobility. Later this year, Luke will receive the ultimate gift — an assistance dog named KC. The yellow labrador is being trained to retrieve dropped items, open and close doors, and push light switches.
Luke, his parents, Brad and Gloria, and his brothers, Parker, 18, and Spencer, 15, were featured in a videotaped profile and appeared live on last year’s national Telethon.
“That was awesome,” said Luke, who was serving his third term as MDA’s Goodwill Ambassador for South Carolina at the time.
“Being on Telethon was probably the biggest MDA event I’ve ever done. I was amazed the first year I went to the local Asheville (N.C.) Telethon. It was huge to me.
“But when I got to The Beverly Hilton in California, I’d never been so excited in my life… This was before I knew I was going to be National Goodwill Ambassador. It was even more special because it was my first [national] Telethon, and for all I knew, it could have been my last.”
South Carolina celebrity
As the South Carolina MDA ambassador, Luke has attended sponsor meetings, fundraisers and special events across the state.
During this time his love for the International Association of Fire Fighters and Harley-Davidson, two of MDA’s largest national sponsors, began to blossom. He has participated in Fill the Boot drives and Harley-Davidson rallies.
“I have a real respect for the fire fighters because they give a lot of money,” Luke said. “Not only are they working for ‘Jerry’s kids’ but they save people’s lives every day and I think that’s amazing. They’re extremely brave, so I have a major respect for fire fighters nationwide.”
One of Luke’s fondest memories is of the relocation of the Greenville Harley-Davidson shop.
Because of his special MDA status, Luke was chosen to cut the ribbon at the grand opening, an honor he didn’t take lightly. After cutting the ribbon with a giant pair of scissors (with some help), he was treated to a ride in a Harley-Davidson sidecar and given a bandana to keep.
Going national is a large step up from being state ambassador.
“I’d hoped that one day I’d be able to reach out to a bigger range of people,” Luke said. “It gives me a chance not only to help out with MDA, but to see more of the United States and meet some of the fire fighters in other parts of the country, not just in South Carolina.”
An impressive resume
Talk to Luke for two minutes, and you know he’s mature beyond his years.
Luke, who’s a straight-A student, loves to sing, listen to country music, write stories and read all kinds of fiction, especially mystery novels by — who else? — Agatha Christie. He directs church plays and acts with the local community theater. Swimming is also a favorite activity.
But his true love is writing. Luke dreams of a career in journalism, but he does have a plan B and C and even D.
“Pastor in a church is number two. A director in [our] community theater is number three, and then my chef job is number four,” he said.
Always one to be prepared, it’s only fitting that Luke is in the Boy Scouts of America, an activity he shares with the entire family. His parents, Brad, an English professor at Erskine College in Due West, and Gloria, a dental assistant, serve as troop leaders.
Luke’s a First Class Scout, working on his journalism merit badge. His goal is to work his way up to Eagle Scout, like his older brothers.
Feeling blessed to have a great group of friends who’re always willing to help out, Luke enjoys exploring the Erskine campus with them, talking and laughing. He also values the time he spends with his brothers, even though Spencer picks on him sometimes.
Like most kids served by MDA, the event Luke most looks forward to each year is MDA summer camp.
“A lot of times when I think about [summer camp], I get what I call ‘camp fever,’” said Luke, who’s been to Camp Bethelwood in York four times. “That’s all I think about. And a lot of times I dream about it at night, and I think about, oh, I wonder what we’re going to do this year.”
Besides VIP day, when the fire fighters and Harley-Davidson riders visit camp, one of his favorite activities is swimming.
Last summer, he’d just had a spinal fusion surgery to correct his scoliosis and wasn’t allowed to swim. Taking advantage of his extra time, Luke put his interest in journalism to work and created a daily camp newsletter called The Traveling Times.
Designed to give campers memories of their week at camp, each day’s newsletter presented a camp news story, list of the next day’s activities, weather forecast, joke of the day, daily quote and the “Camper’s Corner” column, written by a camper.
Luke views his new MDA role with typical candor and optimism.
“If I didn’t have SMA, I wouldn’t have to wear leg braces, wouldn’t have to drive a wheelchair, wouldn’t have to have physical therapy and worry about hurting my legs and feet and hips every time I move. I wouldn’t have to be pushed around or ask for help every time I needed it.
“But in another sense, if I didn’t have SMA I wouldn’t be Goodwill Ambassador, South Carolina or National.”