Gabe Ford and mother Rhonda, recently relocated to Canandaigua, spread the message that all lives have purpose

Gabriella “Gabe” Ford has grown into the voice for America’s bullied. As a motivational speaker, Gabe; her mother, Rhonda Ford; and her dog, Izzy, have traveled the country telling her story of being bullied herself — a story intended to instill hope and show that all lives have purpose.

As a young girl, Gabe Ford was active in dance. During her early teens she was diagnosed with Friedreich’s ataxia, a degenerative muscle disorder that affected her speech and mobility. As a result, she gave up many things she loved, including dance. Throughout high school, she suffered severe bullying as her disease progressed.

After high school, Gabe sunk into a deep depression. It wasn’t until adopting her dog, Izzy, that she felt she had a purpose again.

“The first moment I saw her, I just loved her,” she said. Coincidently, Izzy had a degenerative muscular disorder similar to Gabe's.

This purpose and relationship nudged Gabe Ford onto the path of motivational speaking. At age 22, although she felt too weary to speak in front of a school assembly- she found the strength. She walked in with Izzy and with the help of her mom and step-dad, refusing to use a wheelchair.

The students were enthusiastic and welcoming to Gabe and Izzy. The message took hold, too. In the 16 years since that first speech, children have written letters to the Fords telling how the story changed their thinking and actions. One boy was inspired so drastically that he no longer wished to end his life as he had been planning.

For Gabe, the best part of this journey is meeting people and being able to help them. “Changing lives — I mean, that’s the best thing in life you can do,” she said.

The hardest part of Friedreich’s ataxia hasn’t been the loss of mobility or speech; it’s been that Gabe wasn’t always accepted by people. That may be why the message from a woman with a rare genetic disease resonated universally.

Gabe is defined by more than her disease. She listens to music, watches quirky movies with her dog Jack, cooks and decorates. She also camps and whitewater rafts on the Colorado River with an organization that works with people with disabilities.

She has written two books about her life, as well: "Still Dancing" and “Gabe & Izzy: Standing Up for America’s Bullied,” the latter often used throughout schools as required reading.

Yet, Gabe Ford’s disease progresses. Her mother, Rhonda Ford, will take over the mission and wants to carry on her daughter's message. “Gabe and Izzy” is rebranding to “Mom on a Mission,” as Rhonda continues on with her daughter’s calling.

The mother and daughter have recently relocated to Canandaigua. Rhonda is currently scheduling school speaking events, while Gabe is scheduling book signings and meet-and-greets. To schedule either, call 585-315-2605; or to purchase the books, visit gabeandizzy.com.