My name is Ashlea Smith, and I was diagnosed with FA at 16 in 1998. I'm 35 years old and live in Aliquippa (20 miles west of Pittsburgh) with my husband, 13-year-old stepdaughter, 5-year-old son, dog, and 2 cats. I work part-time for a nonprofit organization that serves children and families in the local area.
I began showing symptoms such as loss of balance and coordination at the age of 14, and it became most evident in activities that I had previously excelled in such as cheerleading, dance, gymnastics, swimming, and softball. After my diagnosis, I was able to finish high school without really confronting too many obstacles of the disease. My family and friends were integral in getting me through those years. I started having more trouble with my mobility throughout college and really struggled with how to come to terms with what was happening to my body. I pushed so hard against using any kind of mobility aid and tried desperately to keep my independence.
I started using my first wheelchair in 2004 when I was 22 years old. This only drove me to live as "normal" of a life as I could. I know now that the word "normal" is a completely subjective term and carries little weight in evaluating my life experience. But as a 22-year-old, anything that helped me find some level of normalcy was welcomed with open arms. I met my husband in 2005, and we got married after dating for 3 years. He has helped continue my dream of leading a happy and fulfilling life. After receiving my Bachelor's Degree in Psychology from Robert Morris University, I decided to further my education at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. I received my Masters of Education Degree in School Counseling in the Spring of 2012. It was a busy year for us. I also gave birth to our son in August of that year. It's been a whirlwind of ups and downs, but a lot of laughs along the way. My life is anything but "normal," and I'm okay with that because it is filled with a loving family and supportive friends that continue to encourage me as I navigate this crazy life with FA. That is by far more than I could ever hope for.
"And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love."
1 Corinthians 13:13