A big sports fan with a bigger heart, this 11-year-old is ready to speak out for MDA
Bryson Foster dreams big. No, make that B-I-G.
But those with big hearts usually do.
"Even if you dream small, those small things can turn into big things in the end," says Bryson, with wisdom beyond his 11 years.
In true sports vernacular, he adds: "Go big or go home."
So, Bryson continues to dream about one day being the starting quarterback for his beloved Cincinnati Bengals, or a professional basketball player, or a professional head coach.
Never mind that Bryson has Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), a disease characterized by muscle weakness in the hips, legs and shoulders that eventually affects all voluntary muscles.
"I dream that one day my disease will be gone," says Bryson. "And that maybe I’ll be one of the greatest basketball players." Diagnosed with DMD at the age of 5, Bryson is still able to walk, but uses a power wheelchair for long distances.
For now, Bryson will do his part in his newly appointed role as MDA’s 2012 National Goodwill Ambassador.
The role has been a dream come true and one of the greatest moments of his life, he says. He’d often wondered what it would be like to follow in the footsteps of MDA National Youth Chairman Luke Christie or Abbey Umali, who served as MDA’s National Goodwill Ambassador for a record four years.
"I always thought it would be awesome," he says.
And now, here he is.
|A huge sports fan, Bryson dreams of starring in the pros someday.|
"MDA is kind of like the NBA [National Basketball Association] where you have stars and you have role players, like a sixth man," he says. "MDA is the star. I’m just a role player. You come in and contribute."
Abbey Umali’s early advice: "Get ready to smile!" she joked in a congratulatory email.
He’s ready. Bryson smiles naturally. He laughs plenty, has an infectious sense of humor and makes friends quickly. He’s often high-fiving his peers and classmates at Furr Elementary School in Concord, N.C. Bryson, a fifth-grader and an honor roll student, is so well-known that Furr principal James Roberts said that if Bryson were to decide to run for school president, it wouldn’t surprise him if he won.
"He has always been outgoing," says Roberts. "He was one of the first students to introduce himself to me and share information about himself. He’s easy to get to know, and is the type of person who, as the saying goes, has never met a stranger."
Bryson will meet plenty of people this year in his new role, traveling to Nashville, Tenn.; Las Vegas; Milwaukee; Naples, Fla., and points in between.
"I can’t wait to get out there," he says.
Ambitious for anyone at any age. For Bryson, it’s what he was meant to do, he says. He’ll be able to be himself, tell his story and share MDA’s message of help and hope.
It’s Bryson’s story that first caught the eye of an MDA executive when Bryson spoke at an MDA awards function at the age of 9.
No sooner had Bryson finished his speech than the executive texted the local MDA office, “I think I’ve found the next Luke Christie.” (Christie was national goodwill ambassador in 2006 and 2007.)
|Bryson with his parents, Phil and Claire, who will accompany him in his travels throughout the year.|
"I made them laugh, and I made them cry," Bryson says. "All I did was tell them my story — just got up and spoke. Ever since then, it’s as easy as could be. I told them about falling down and breaking my leg and then told them about my disease, what life means to me and what God means to me in my life."
The speech even surprised his parents, Claire and Phil, who later asked their son if he had been nervous in giving it. He said he was neither scared nor nervous.
"When he first went up there and started to talk, I said, 'I'm not responsible for anything he says,'" Phil jokes. "But when he did it, what he said was so clear.
"As parents, you’re always proud of your children. But that night he spoke [for the first time] at an MDA event — it even gives me goose bumps speaking about it now — we saw that there was a plan for him, that God had a plan for him to get the word out."
The message: "Just don’t give up." Bryson isn’t, and he’s encouraging everyone else to do the same.
"Bryson has such a great smile and positive attitude!" says Valerie A. Cwik, MDA interim president and medical director. "He immediately connects with everyone he meets. We’re excited to have him and his parents represent the Association this year, helping us spread the word about our commitment to fighting muscle diseases."
Bryson and his parents will travel the country throughout the coming year representing individuals and families affected by neuromuscular disease, participating in special events and meetings of national MDA sponsors, and speaking with the media.
|Naturally outgoing, Bryson loves talking with people — something he’ll be doing
a lot of this year.
"For some people, I do think I’ve been able to inspire them with my story. I think I’ve impacted them," Bryson says. "I just hope I’m not dull. It makes me feel good inside, doing what I’m doing."
Bryson feels it’s just something he was meant to do. And everything, he says, comes from the bottom of his heart.
"A perfect speech doesn’t come from a piece of paper," he says. "It comes from the heart."
As does his passion for sports. A self-proclaimed sports fanatic, he has his own weekly sports talk program at his school, and has a sports memorabilia collection that rivals some of the best.
And don’t forget the touchdown he scored in 2010 for the Mallard Chargers, a local Pop Warner team. Bryson, the team captain, scored from the 1-yard line.
"That was a night to remember," he says, sporting a big smile. "I had been with the team the whole year, and I feel I helped inspire them in some ways. I felt like I got closer to the whole team that night."
And his thoughts as he crossed the goal line?
"I just said, 'Thank you, God.'"
Another dream fulfilled.