So quiet you could hear a pin drop say Swartz Creek staff

March 2006
By Jennifer Hayward
Swartz Creek, MI

The staff at both Syring and Dieck Elementary schools experienced a rarity during their last assembly. In the gym, the typically noisy crowd of kids were suddenly mesmerized and sat in complete silence. All because of a special guest speaker and her dog. They are known, as “Gabe and Izzy.” They had come to talk to our Swartz Creek kids about bullying and the effects that it can have on a person, both short and long term.

The assembly starts with a video about Gabe and Izzy. This video demonstrates for the students, both the highs and lows that Gabe and Izzy have experienced.

It shows a story that first aired on Animal Planet three years ago and has since been aired over 50 times and continues to run. It begins with clips of Gabrielle Ford of Fenton dancing and running around. Then there is a take of her struggling to find her balance, due to what was later discovered to be a rare neuromuscular disease called Friedreichs Ataxia. Gabe was 12 when this disease began to peek its ugly head. She began walking and talking differently. Although this was something that in the early stages Gabe didn’t notice, others did. Then in high school her symptoms worsened. That is when the bullying started. After the video Gabrielle Ford takes the “stage” and personally tells her story. She tells the kids that after being diagnosed with Friedreichs Ataxia she had to go to a new school, where the children did not understand her. They were mean and cruel. The kids would trip her, knock books out of her hands and one boy even hit her so hard on the legs that it caused bruising. She explained her fear in telling anyone.

Ultimately though, her mother noticed the bruising and Gabe told her mom what had been happening. After having a talk with the principal some of the bullying stopped. Following graduation, She described how her friends just stopped calling. She would call them without ever receiving a call back. Then Gabe became overwhelmed by depression. She felt ashamed of herself and the situation she was in. She was afraid to even leave her house. Soon she began to feel like a burden to her friends and family. She was embarrassed to be seen in public, because many of the people she went to school with knew her before, and she didn’t want them to see her differently now that she was “so called” wheelchair bound.

Although it was time for a wheelchair, Gabe refused. She got around by crawling from room to room and staying home to avoid the wheelchair, until a miracle happened. She adopted a beautiful black and tan coonhound, Izzy. The breeder explained to Gabe that while Izzy was still a pup she would need exposure to a wheelchair, so she would not fear it when Gabe chose to use one. It was agreed and she got the pup and wheelchair.

This beloved dog became Gabe’s best friend and confidant. Izzy did not judge her therefore allowing Gabe to be herself. Gabe felt a renewed sense of purpose in life after Izzy entered her world. That is when Gabe was finally able to rid herself of much of the depression that had consumed so many of her days.

Sometime later it was discovered that her beloved Izzy developed a complication, resulting in a neurological disorder. Izzy began to mirror many of Gabe’s symptoms. Izzy was Gabe’s responsibility and so she would need to take her to the vet and the only way to achieve that was by leaving the house and using a wheelchair. Soon after both “girl and dog” were approached to share their story on Animal Planet. Then a Fenton teacher asked Gabe if she would come and talk to her class about bullying. Not wanting to say no, she reluctantly agreed. “She was afraid,” said Rhonda (Gabe’s mother) “She would be talking to kids at the same grade level that she was when she first started getting bullied.” Despite her fears Gabe went and spoke to the class, then was asked by another teacher from Flint to visit her class as well. “It just sort of snowballed from there,” said Rhonda. Ultimately bringing Gabe and Izzy to our town of Swartz Creek, and many other places all over the country.

Rhonda said, “Gabe has never complained about her disease” and describes that when her dog became ill Gabe asked, “Why my dog?”. She has a deep desire to stop bullying. She explained to our students what to do if they were being bullied. She also asked all of the students to take an oath never to bully anyone for any reason.

Gabe and Izzy and the heartfelt story that they told, “left the kids riveted” explains Julie Clark. She also stated “ This story teaches manners, respect and how to accept people for their differences.”

Joan Herford said, “It was an inspiration for the children, no matter what handicap, you can still achieve success.”

Both Julie Clark and Joan Herford teach first grade at Syring elementary. They also explained that while this assembly focused on anti-bullying it also tied in to “ PERSERVERIENCE” the schools “Character Trait” their focus for last marking period. Gabe was living proof for the students and staff that no matter what difficulties life may throw at us if we persevere, we can pull through and achieve greatness.

When speaking with Gabe she said, “All of the kids at Dieck and Syring were very nice to me. I have gone through so much because of being bullied, and I still have issues sometimes. I just want to try and keep other people from having to experience it too.”

Rhonda recently discovered that “Gabe” means “messenger”, she says that coincidences like that have been happening ever since this all started. “Gabe is doing what she was always meant to do” she said.

It became Gabe’s mission to help Izzy, in doing so Izzy helped her. Now this courageous duo is going from school to school sharing their real life experiences, and helping others. Gabe’s stories are strait from the heart and that is what seems to make her discussions so widely accepted by the students. Both schools were deeply moved by this assembly and recommend that all schools receive a visit from Gabe and Izzy. It was felt that they were an inspiration to all.

Gabe wrote on her web site, “My goal in life is to stop school bullying, Still Dancing, my inspirational story, will detail how I went from healthy child to bullied child to nearly an agoraphobic…and how my beloved dog, Izzy, and an appearance on the cable network, Animal Planet, changed everything so that I believe I am making the world a better place, one school at a time.” For more information you can visit their Website at

Reprinted with permission