NEW PORT RICHEY — When Gavin Lambert was 5 years old, his parents, Kevin and Dawn Lambert, learned that he had Friedreich's ataxia, a degenerative and debilitating neuro-muscular disorder that impairs basic abilities such as walking, hearing, vision and movement.
"We finally got the answer we'd been seeking," said Dawn Lambert, who had noticed that Gavin was having difficulty running. "It wasn't what we wanted to hear, but it gave us something to fight."
Since his 2011 diagnosis, Gavin's fight has taken a number of inspiring turns. Riding a specially modified bike, he has claimed numerous medals in fundraising triathlons to benefit Team FARA (Friedreich's Ataxia Research Alliance) and he also serves as a spokesman for the organization, appearing in a promotional video with former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Ronde Barber and with FARA spokesman Kyle Bryant. He and his family conduct and participate in fundraisers, and raised $15,000 at a recent event at a family farm in Plant City.
"It feels good to help," said Gavin, now 10.
Gavin, the recipient of the Freddie Solomon Moral Courage Award, spent a day as the honorary captain of the Florida Gators.
"I always wanted to be a football player," he said.
Now a fourth-grader at Longleaf Elementary School, Gavin also excels in the classroom.
"I like math," he said. "And I love reading books."
Initially, Dawn Lambert said, she was reluctant to enroll Gavin in a physical education program at the school. That changed when she learned that Donna Qualtiere, a longtime fitness teacher whom she had studied with as a child, oversees the physical education department at Longleaf Elementary.
"I told her that Gavin would be participating," said Qualtiere. "I would rearrange the entire curriculum just for him."
Aside from modifying activities so Gavin could participate, Qualtiere this year added a special event to October's Beary Fit Kids Duathlon — an event she organized six years ago to promote physical fitness and activity among students.
A three-year participant in Beary Fit Kids, Gavin had run and ridden his bike in past events. Yet, this year, after undergoing major leg surgery, he was afraid that he would be unable to participate in the foot race portion of the event.
But once again, Qualtiere came through for Gavin.
In his honor, she created a new Beary Fit Kids event, Gavin's Gallop, in which participating students could ride on the backs of their fathers or uncles during the running portion of the event.
Gavin participated in both legs of the duathlon and, once again, made his coach and family proud.
"He's so driven that he drives me," said Qualtiere, who also has gotten involved in Team FARA events as part of Team Gavin. "He sets a goal; he makes a goal."