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FARA Ambassador Program

The FARA Ambassadors are a united team of patient volunteers living with FA who are committed to supporting FARA in the search for treatments and a cure.

The Ambassadors are a service team within the FARA organization. Participants in the FARA Ambassador Program are passionate about building and upholding relationships within the FA community. Together we seek to know more about the research and pharmaceutical pipelines being developed through FARA in order to be better prepared to represent the FA community when opportunities arise to educate the medical community and potential donors. When meeting with scientific groups, pharma partners, and the FDA, our purpose is to promote awareness of the patient perspective of living with FA. We believe our dedicated support is key to continued success toward our ultimate goal of treatments and a cure.

FARA Ambassador Program Mission Statement:

The FARA Ambassadors are positive, supportive, peer representatives for the FA community, actively raising awareness and funds for FARA. To learn more about the FARA Ambassador Program or to have a FARA Ambassador speak at your event, please contact:

Tom Trovinger

Hi, my name is Tom, I'm 38 years old, and I was diagnosed with FA in 1997. I live independently in my own house, which is very important to me. I strive to do whatever I can to maintain some level of independence for as long as possible. Living alone at times can be very difficult.Tom I find myself getting frustrated more easily because I routinely find different things that I either cannot do, or have more and more difficulty doing. It's almost as if I am continuously mourning the loss of different abilities. My constant struggle to maintain my independence can also be very difficult to friends and family members. I am very resistant to ask for, or accept, help. A lot of people around me get upset with me because they want to help, rather than watching me struggle with an otherwise easy task.

Staying active, to me, is a very important part of being able to stay independent. Staying active, doesn't necessarily have to involve exercise, but I think that is a huge part of it. I subscribe to the "If you don't use it you will lose it" rule, meaning if you have muscles that you don't use on a regular basis, they will gradually deteriorate, and eventually you won't have them to use. I work out at the gym four days a week, doing whatever I can. I also participate in physical therapy twice a week where I exercise my core muscles and walk, albeit for short distances. I also travel a lot, and participate in many social activities.

Robbi Van Schoick

My name is Robbi Van Schoick and I am 33. I live in Athens, Georgia with my parents. My younger sister, Katie, lives in Atlanta with her husband. I am a proud aunt of two nieces.  I have had FA for most of my life--since age 6. Growing up, I chose to shelter myself from learning about my disease, and in fact, I had never met anyone else with FA until my middle sister Becca was diagnosed at age 12.Robbi

I am a native Texan, and my family moved a fair amount, due to my dad's job in pharmaceuticals for animal health. I really like living in Athens, home of the University of Georgia.

I received both my bachelors in psychology and masters in public health at UGA, and I am still involved there. Specifically, I volunteer as a co-teacher of a seminar on communication with people with disabilities, which is right up my alley. I teach with a professor in kinesiology, a subject I do not pretend to know a thing about. I really enjoy our class, and since we do some of the grading online, it is easy for me to engage. I teach only in the fall and *never* before noon!

Erin O'Neil


FA is rare. One has a better chance of getting a hole in one
on a Par 3 then being diagnosed with FA.

You have the same odds of dying of a heart attack while running a marathon then being diagnosed with FA. Yet with FA being rare and affecting 1 in 50,000 I was diagnosed with FA in 1992.


When I was told I had Friedreich's Ataxia, I didn’t know what that was or even how to spell it and honestly I didn’t care much, I was 12. I never thought I would end up in a wheelchair. Things like that don’t happen to me. I thought the odds were in my favor.Erin I played softball, soccer and basketball up until freshman year of high school when I became so off balance and uncoordinated. Although I had to stop playing and began to manage the teams, I never gave up. I was in the drama club, class chauffeur, prom court, skipped classes, got detention and was a typical high school kid. I also walked funny but life goes on.

During my 3rd year of college things were becoming unsafe, I had to start using a wheelchair. I was falling and spraining my ankle a lot, I was feeling embarrassed at the stares from outsiders and not wanting to carry books home to study or carry my tray in the cafeteria. At this point things became clear, I could choose to sit around, waste away and feel sorry for myself, or I could just carry on. I always chose to carry on.

Jean Walsh


What Next?
Hi, I am Jean. I am 50 and was diagnosed with FA about 30 years ago.


This is something I have been thinking of a lot lately. They are going to find a cure for FA. Of course, it can never be soon enough, but it will come. When they do I am going to be as ready as I can be emotionally, physically and spiritually. I eagerly anticipate a cure and try to do what I Jeancan to make it happen. I think it is going to be harder than I guess/anticipate.
For 30 years I have known I had a chronic disease. For twentyish years I have identified with and identified myself as a person with a physical disability. Chronic disease, disability, Jean Walsh [yes talking about myself in the third person ;)] are so inextricably intertwined right now. I am not my disease, but it is complicated. My sense of identity is, right now, married to chronic disease and disability. While disease and disability do not run my life, they are facts of my life. And to me, disease and disability have given me opportunities to be strong, pursue happiness and be giving that I might not have had otherwise. I feel like I am a better version of me because I have FA. Maybe I would be the resilient person I think I am now if I didn’t have FA ... something I’ll never know and is not, to me, worth much thought.

Andrea Kiess


Andrea & Ramada!At the age of 14, I thought my life was perfect. But the events of the next year turned that opinion upside down.

My name is Andrea and I live in Wichita, KS. As a freshman in high school, my gym teacher noticed that I was "extra" clumsy and uncoordinated while my class was doing a series of physical tests. She had the school nurse observe me during class and the nurse agreed. She called my mom and my mom took me to a neurologist.  Andrea & Ramada (aka the BEST service dog in the world)! After many tests, this neurologist told my mom that I had a virus and would be fine. A year later, my clumsiness and uncoordination kept getting worse, so my mom dragged me to another doctor.

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