Christina Buckalew 1 Name: Christina Buckalew

Age: 21

Where do you call home? Austin, TX

Education: I’m currently working on my associates degree in Business Management at a community college. Next, I will be going for a Bachelors in Business Management, hopefully at Texas A&M. I aspire to acquire a Masters in Business Management from the Business school in Paris, France; but that is still to be determined.

Who do you live with? I live with my parents, my sister, my uncle, three cats and a dog.

What's a typical day for you? I am always doing something different. I am an avid volunteer, I ride horses, I go to physical therapy twice a week, I tutor my cousin, and I enjoy eating out. So, I guess you could say my typical day would be doing something that makes me feel alive.

How long have you known you are living with FA? I noticed something wasn’t quite right when I was 13 and in eighth grade. I couldn’t run as far as the other kids without feeling like I was about to faint from not being able to breathe. As you can imagine, entering high school and walking around a bigger building, my symptoms exacerbated. As time went on, I visited the emergency room several times. Finally, a cardiologist was in the emergency room when I came in, and he instantly had suspicions of what it was. He told them to test me for several things, test my blood and all that good stuff. He eventually brought back the diagnosis that I had been waiting for—the answer to the unbearable pain that I was experiencing. After being diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy while still being in the hospital, they had to do a physical test to make sure that I would be okay to go home. They noticed I was dragging my foot while I was walking down the hall. Now, I had always been a clumsy kid, but I never thought that it would be something bigger than I had ever known. He recommended that I go get genetic testing, and at the age of 15, I found out that I had Friedreich's Ataxia. Now at age 21, I have been living with FA for 6 ½ years.

Christina Buckalew 2 Are there any others with FA in your family? As far as I know, no.

Describe your transition from walking to walker/wheelchair. At the start of my diagnosis, nothing really changed. I was in denial and refused to use any adaptations up until we had gone on a trip to Amarillo. I noticed that I was holding onto my dad for what felt like dear life. After that, I used crutches for a while. Then, I injured my knee, got t-boned by a speeding driver, and broke my ankle (not all at once). My body was showing me all the signs that I would not be able to use crutches again—safely— so I listened. Now, I use a wheelchair for the most part. I also have an upright walker that I use at home.

What do you like to do to stay active and what type of exercises work for you to stay strong? I do physical therapy twice a week, therapeutic horseback riding once a week, and everywhere I go requires me to exert enough energy to pull my wheelchair out, wheel myself, then put it back in manually. I enjoy working out and using my stander; I hope to get a gym membership soon though.

Do you have any hobbies or special interests? Yes. I enjoy writing, photography, studying research about my interests, driving in the suburbs, live music, going to rodeos, horseback riding, and swimming. My interests would be holistic medicine.

What is a good trick to make daily life easier? Definitely stretching and moving even when you don’t want to. The motto to anything body related is: If you don’t use it, you lose it.

When FA gets you down, what do you think/do to feel better? I watch my favorite movies, listen to my favorite songs, and allow myself to grieve. That’s one thing I’ve had to learn from all of this: that allowing myself to feel the emotions is the healthy way to live and not just exist.

What is one way living with FA has POSITIVELY affected your life? The people I’ve gotten to meet, the community that we’ve all created makes my big heart smile, pun intended.

Christina Buckalew 3 What is a favorite motivational quote of yours? From the movie, “Walk. Ride. Rodeo,” after Amberley Snyder (my role model) had her car accident. She was in the hospital, struggling to accept her new reality of being in a wheelchair. Her mom said to her, “this chair will either be your wings or it will be your anchor. You decide.”

What piece of advice that someone with FA has given you that encourages and inspires you? “You can still live the life you wanted. Sure, it will take adaptations, patience, lots of trial and error, and it won’t look exactly how you imagined, but it’s possible.” - Frankie Perazzola

What is the best advice YOU could give to a person who has been newly diagnosed with FA? In life, you will lose some; you will win some. I won’t lie to you; life is not easy. It is not meant to be for anyone on earth. No matter how much it hurts now, you will learn strength that you never even knew was possible. Every day you must wake up and fight, even when you do not want to. Your inspiration and your drive will prevail. Most of all, never give up. Your role model’s secret to success is never giving up.

What is the first thing you want to do when a cure/treatment to FA is found? I feel like it’s the most cliché answer, but I want to go for a long walk.

"I have FA but FA doesn't have me." What does this statement mean to you? Even though I have FA, it is not me; I am more than this obstacle.

How do you live your life in the face of adversity? At first, it was very difficult. I would run into people that I went to high school with, and they would always ask “what's wrong with you, what happened?” I was so ashamed, and now I realize that there was no need to be. In truth, every single person has something that they’re battling. It can be anxiety, depression, addiction, something physical, or maybe something with cognitive health. No matter what it is, you belong here just as much as anyone else

Tell us a little more about you... I was born on Christmas, which I have a love/hate relationship with. I am a very strong-willed, yet guarded person; I have been through a lot. I want to travel more than anything, and I have so much on my bucket list that I hope to do someday. Most consider me an “old soul.” Lastly, my spirit animal is a wolf. :)

Interviewed by
Interviewed by Brittany Sommerfield