Michael Gray Dougherty, known to friends and family as Gray, is a happy, independent 12-year-old boy.
He likes to play chess and Xbox, and he competes on the National Academic League team at Alexander Graham Middle School. He lives in Sharon Woods with his mom, Abbie, dad, Mike, and 8-year-old brother, Riley.
Gray also has a rare muscular disease: Spinal Muscular Atrophy. Diagnosed when he was 10 months old, Gray has limited voluntary muscle movement and has been in a power wheelchair since he was 2. Every five years, Gray graduates to a new wheelchair to fit his changing needs and size.
After his diagnosis, Gray's parents started Gray's Gang, a nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness and money for SMA research. For the past two years, Gray's Gang has held "Cure SMA Walk and Roll," an event that benefits two research organizations: Families of SMA and Fight SMA.
This year, the event will be from 1-4 p.m. April 9 at the Alexander Graham Middle track at 1800 Runnymede Lane.
According to the Families of SMA website, SMA is a motor neuron disease that affects the voluntary muscles used for activities such as crawling, walking, head and neck control and swallowing.
There are three types of SMA, all of which a child is born with. Type I is the most severe, characterized by feeble arm and leg movements and trouble swallowing. Gray, who has Type II, can sit up and swallow on his own. There are no cognitive disabilities associated with Type II SMA; Gray can interact and talk with others and is on the honor roll.Type III is the mildest form of SMA. Most children can walk and move their muscles with limlited support.
When Gray was diagnosed in August 1999, Abbie Dougherty said, she felt overwhelmed.
"He was a newborn, so there was all of that," said Abbie Dougherty. "But then there was the diagnosis, too. It was all a blur."
Dougherty said she first noticed a difference in Gray's movements when he was about 4 months old. She said she took him to the pediatrician but no major concerns were brought up.
"He kept telling me Gray was just a lazy baby," said Dougherty.
When Gray was 9 months old and still not pushing-up with his arms or legs, Dougherty asked to see a neurologist.
"The doctor said (the neurologist) would probably just tell me he was developmentally delayed and send me home with some exercises," she said. "But that's not what she said. She knew right away something was wrong."
After Gray's diagnosis, the Doughertys broke the news to their friends at a N.C. State University football game tailgate party. Both Abbie and Mike had attended the university, and although they live in Charlotte they still traveled to Raleigh for games.
"They immediately wanted to know what they could do to help us," said Dougherty. "But we said we didn't want to just help Gray but other kids with SMA as well."
In 2000, Gray's Gang was born and held its first barbecue and silent auction at an N.C. State tailgate party, raising $9,000. Since then, the organization has raised $180,000 for SMA research.
For the past two years, Gray's Gang has held its main event in Charlotte. The Walk and Roll allows the community to become involved with raising money and meet Gray and other kids diagnosed with SMA.
The event will feature a one-mile walk around the track as well as games and activities.
There will also be a DJ, free food and drinks and arts and crafts. Last year's event raised $35,000. Admission for the Walk and Roll is $20 for children and $25 for adults. Admission for families of five or more is $95.