Gemma’s joy­ful journey

Wangaratta Chronicle - North East Regional Extra - - FRONT PAGE - by LEAH AN­DER­SON-BYRNE

GEMMA Gray leads an ex­tremely colour­ful life.

The 18 year old GOTAFE stu­dent is cur­rently study­ing a Cer­tifi­cate IV in Dis­abil­ity, has also au­di­tioned for the Ned Kelly film, done pho­to­shoots, played sport, and has even made it through some com­pe­ti­tion rounds on The Voice.

“I went on The Voice in 2013 for the kid’s com­pe­ti­tion and ac­tu­ally got to the round just be­fore the tele­vised blind auditions,” Gemma said.

“It was an in­cred­i­ble ex­pe­ri­ence.”

This year, Gemma has been get­ting busy with var­i­ous jobs and ac­tiv­i­ties to work on her­self.

“I asked a pho­tog­ra­pher friend to do a photoshoot with me in March, so I could gain some more body con­fi­dence be­cause I was lack­ing in that as­pect,” Gemma said.

“Af­ter see­ing the re­sult, I was so happy, and def­i­nitely gained some more body pos­i­tiv­ity.”

More re­cently, a fam­ily friend sent Gemma the au­di­tion form for the film ‘The True His­tory of the Kelly Gang’ which is be­ing filmed in Wan­garatta.

“I did drama through­out pri­mary school and early high school and I’ve al­ways en­joyed play­ing dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters and putting my­self out there,” Gemma said.

De­spite all these dif­fer­ent as­pects of her life, Gemma is not al­ways up to tak­ing things on.

For 12 years she has been suf­fer­ing with Fi­bromyal­gia Syn­drome and chronic fa­tigue, but only put a name to the chronic ill­ness a few years ago.

“Pretty much all my life we went to doc­tors who had no idea what was wrong, just that there was some­thing wrong,” she said.

“Fi­nally we went to a rheuma­tol­o­gist who told us it was Fi­bromyal­gia Syn­drome, which ex­plains my chronic fa­tigue and other symp­toms.

“There were days at school where I couldn’t hold a pen much longer be­cause of the pain and fa­tigue, and even­tu­ally I had a year off in year 11 to work on my health.

“Af­ter that I went into the work force and have now worked over eight jobs in­clud­ing work­ing in CSSD at the hos­pi­tal for a school based ap­pren­tice­ship, vol­un­teer­ing with in­ter­change at UMFC for three years look­ing af­ter kids with dis­abil­i­ties, and between Sub­way, McDon­alds and now Big W, I was some­times work­ing two jobs a day.

“The symp­toms are there on a daily basis but I pre­tend it’s not hap­pen­ing and do things out of my com­fort zone, like lead­er­ship camps, study­ing and other things to keep my­self go­ing.

“In the morn­ing I go to the gym, and if I don’t make it there I’ll go for a run be­fore work.

“On bad days I’ll rest at home but try to keep my­self mov­ing if pos­si­ble.

“I haven’t met many other peo­ple with the syn­drome, but I saw a documentary about Lady Gaga who also has it and that was re­ally cool to watch.”

Gemma con­tin­u­ally posts about her strug­gle on so­cial me­dia, and she said this is a way to keep peo­ple up­dated and aware.

“So­cial me­dia helps me raise aware­ness to friends and fam­ily, I could be look­ing per­fectly fine but end up in hos­pi­tal the same day, but they couldn’t see the symp­toms,” she said.

“Peo­ple have told me to get a dis­abil­ity pen­sion but I’m so ca­pa­ble of so many things, I don’t need one.

“I al­ways tell my­self to keep my mind fo­cused on some­thing else.

“My motto is ‘ob­ser­va­tion plus ac­tion equals re­sults’, so I ob­serve some­thing through­out the day, fo­cus on that and cre­ate an ac­tion and you’ll get a re­sult, it dis­tracts the mind.

“There’s no cure but there are strate­gies to keep your mind off it.”

Gemma’s as­pi­ra­tions for her fu­ture in­clude mo­ti­va­tional speak­ing, which was fur­ther in­spired af­ter at­tend­ing the Ro­tary-led lead­er­ship camp RYLA.

“I learnt so many pos­i­tive things about my­self at that camp and the mo­ti­va­tional speak­ers opened my eyes to what I could do,” she said.

“I’ve al­ways wanted to be a mo­ti­va­tional speaker and speak about daily life things, hav­ing lost mem­bers of fam­ily and friends to sui­cide and can­cer.

“I’m not much of a speaker but when I get out there it’s amaz­ing what comes out of my mouth.”

One of Gemma’s great­est achieve­ments to date would be her de­ter­mined and suc­cess­ful cre­ation of the girls foot­ball team the Alpine Li­ons in Whorouly.

“I cre­ated Whorouly’s girls foot­ball, the Alpine Li­ons af­ter the Mag­gie’s girl’s foot­ball team was un­able to con­tinue and we were left with no team to play with.

“I con­tacted the AFL to get onto grounds, coaches, um­pires be­cause we had the num­bers, we just needed a club, which we got and we played clubs at Lav­ing­ton, the Wodonga raiders and teams in Wah­gun­yah, Corowa, and Ruther­glen.”

Gemma likes to think she’s made the most of her youth here in Wan­garatta, and the young woman is such a strong ex­am­ple of some­one find­ing the pos­i­tives in a not-so-pos­i­tive sit­u­a­tion.

PHOTO: Moon Prism Pho­tog­ra­phy.

◆ STAY­ING STRONG: Gemma Gray is stay­ing pos­i­tive, busy and up­beat while liv­ing with Fi­bromyal­gia Syn­drome and chronic fa­tigue.

PHOTO: Leah An­der­son-Byrne

◆ RE­SILIENT: Gemma is al­ways ready to face her next challenge.

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