November 19, 2020

Youth Voice Corner: Gabby Dispenza

Project Play WNY is honored to host Gabby as this month’s Youth Voice Corner guest author. As you will read, Gabby has a wonderful perspective to share on the role sport has played in her life thus far and the lessons and lifeskills she has attained from being an athlete. Gabby’s words remind us that sport provides youth with moments to shine that reach far beyond winning.

Hello, my name is Gabby Dispenza and I’m a senior at Mount St. Mary Academy. Recently I was involved in an unexpected experience that combined two of my worlds: athletics and volunteering. What happened didn’t seem like a big thing to me at the time, but I realize it was something out of the ordinary based on the reaction our community had.

Let me explain. I’m on the cross-country team at Mount St. Mary, but cross-country is not my top sport. I joined the team to spend time with my friends and to stay in shape for the two sports that are really important to me – Lacrosse and CrossFit.

I’m the goalie on our varsity lacrosse team and since our season last spring was canceled due to COVID, I knew cross-country would help me work on my conditioning skills. I’m lucky because our school has been open for full in-person learning and I’m enjoying my senior year, but this status can change at any moment, so I’m trying to take advantage of every opportunity I can.

I’m also a nationally-ranked CrossFit athlete. CrossFit combines strength and cardio workouts with good nutrition – and it’s a sport I really love. I work out at my CrossFit gym before school every morning (I’m at the gym by 5:30 a.m.) and I’ve been in local, regional, national and international competitions. For me, team sports are great, but with CrossFit I know I will get out of it exactly what I put into it. I’ve been doing CrossFit for almost two years and I’ve made lots of progress and I feel great. Being involved in sports has helped me learn to manage my time better and really focus on a goal and work hard to achieve it. Participating in sports has also made me mentally tough, which helps when I have something hard to do.

So, back to my story. My team recently had a cross-country meet and about 1.5 miles into the course, I saw a runner from Sacred Heart, Paige, on the ground crying. I could tell she was hurt and needed help, so I stopped to see if she was okay. She told me she was fine and to keep running, but I knew she wasn’t okay – and that’s where one of my other worlds kicked in. I’m a volunteer Junior Explorer with the Getzville Fire Department, and my training taught me to recognize signs of injury. Paige couldn’t get up or walk and I could see that her ankle was swollen and she was shaky.

Seeing Paige in pain, and imagining how I would feel if I were in that situation, I knew I had to act. One of Paige’s SHA teammates stopped to assist, but together we couldn’t lift her. I realized Paige needed help, but we were in the middle of the woods with no adults in sight. My CrossFit training involves a lot of weightlifting, and I knew I could lift Paige myself. So that’s what I did: I picked Paige up and carried her to help. After she was reunited with her parents, I got back on the course and finished my race.

To me, what I did was no big deal. I would stop and help anyone who needed it. But the story got out and I was really surprised by the response to it. I was interviewed on TV and in the newspaper, tons of people reacted on social media, and Mount St. Mary named me Student of the Week. I guess people were shocked that someone would stop and help a competitor, but I couldn’t imagine doing anything differently.

I’m happy to say that Paige is okay and as I look back on this whole experience, I’m glad I had the training and the skills to help her.