When Concord residents Phil and Claire Foster learned their 5-year-old son Bryson had been diagnosed with muscular dystrophy in 2005, they were devastated.
The incurable disease results in muscle weakness and, eventually, inability to walk. But they chose to remain positive and believe it happened for a reason.
Today, Bryson is 11, a bright and energetic boy who is being named 2012 National Goodwill Ambassador for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
After receiving the official diagnosis, the Fosters joined forces with MDA, a nonprofit health agency committed to curing the disease and supporting the families affected by it. They participated in awareness and fundraising campaigns, such as Charlotte's Muscle Walk, and formed their own team, named Bryson's Racers: Racing for a Cure. The team has raised tens of thousands of dollars.
Bryson was one of 100 candidates nominated for the national role, said Mike Blishak, the association's senior vice president of community programs.
"Bryson's an extremely social and friendly young man with a wonderful personality and a great sense of humor," Blishak said. "His energy and passion for MDA is evident in everything he says and does."
The year ahead will involve a lot of travel for the Fosters, including trips to Nashville, Tenn., Naples, Fla., and Las Vegas. Bryson will participate in special events, honoring national MDA sponsors for their contributions and speaking to the media. He will also be featured in promotional materials.
Bryson, who is comfortable with a microphone, is more excited than nervous. The avid sports enthusiast hosts "Bryson's Sportstalk" at Carl A. Furr Elementary, where he has been on the honor roll since third grade, and speaks at Charlotte area MDA events.
He prefers not to use rehearsed speeches or predetermined scripts.
"I speak from my heart," he said.
Bryson has Duchenne, one of nine major forms of muscular dystrophy, said Valerie Cwik, M.D., interim president and medical director of the MDA.
Phil, who works at US Foods, awakes at 3:30 a.m. so he can get off work in time to pick up Bryson from school. He is amazed by his son's resiliency and thankful for community support.
"Blessings come in different ways," he said. "Blessings aren't always sealed up with a pretty little bow."