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Muscular Dystrophy Association Announces 2024 National Ambassador Ira Walker

NEW YORK, NY, January 8, 2023 -- The Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) has selected 39-year-old Ira Walker from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, as its 2024 MDA National Ambassador. Walker joins 16-year-old National Ambassador Leah Zelaya from Brooklyn, New York, who continues her second year representing the organization. As an MDA National Ambassador, Walker will participate in MDA events across the United States, raising awareness of the need for critical funding to support innovative research and care, and advocating for MDA legislative priorities.

Introducing our new 2024 national ambassador, Ira Walker.
Muscular Dystrophy Association introduces 2024 National Ambassador, Ira Walker.

Walker, who lives with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) type 2, will share his story and raise awareness for the organization’s mission to empower the people they serve to live longer, more independent lives. He was diagnosed with SMA at 12 months and never let barriers deter him. He attended college at the University of Missouri and joined the work force as a full-time employee in the human resources field. Walker lives independently and manages his caregivers for support.

“It is my honor to accept the role as Muscular Dystrophy Association’s National Ambassador in 2024. What a wonderful way to kick off the New Year for this nonprofit organization that has brought so much joy and support to my family throughout my life,” said Walker. Of his success, Walker says, “I always knew that I would work professionally full time and achieve my goals regardless of my disability by modifying my environment, being a good communicator, and letting people know when I needed help. I look forward to continuing to motivate myself and others by raising my voice for the MDA community!”

Walker’s sister, who is six years his senior, was also born with SMA, and mentored him from early on to show how to navigate life with a disability. His parents taught both their children that having a disability was not a barrier to success, instilling the mindset that everyone is capable if they work hard and continuously motivate themselves to succeed. Get to know more about both 2024 MDA National Ambassadors in this Quest Media blog here. Read more about Walker in a previous Quest Media blog here.

Zelaya, who lives with an ultra-rare form of neuromuscular disease called scapuloperoneal spinal muscular atrophy (SPSMA), will continue to share her story and raise awareness for the organization's mission to empower the people they serve to live longer, more independent lives.

"My biggest goal as an ambassador is to encourage and support other people who live with neuromuscular diseases, as well as their families. By sharing my story, I hope to encourage full inclusion for people living with disabilities in our culture and others in our community to join our mission of finding treatments and cures for neuromuscular diseases," said Zelaya. "Muscular Dystrophy Association has impacted my life in a tremendous way from MDA Summer Camp that has made me more confident in who I am, to my MDA Care Center team at Columbia University Medical Center, to attending the annual MDA Conference, a global event with the brightest minds working together for scientific and clinical breakthroughs. MDA has given me the answers to my questions regarding my condition and hope for my future."

For 70 years, MDA has worked with nearly 50 National Ambassadors who have shared their stories to raise awareness of the urgent need to fund research for treatments and cures for neuromuscular diseases. They have traveled the nation to meet with partners, volunteers, supporters, and luminaries including U.S. presidents, and have gained national exposure across social media channels and national media. Former youth ambassadors have grown up to achieve distinction, transitioning into adulthood, earning advanced degrees, and making their marks as authors, educators, bloggers, musicians, artists, and successful business professionals.

"We are honored to welcome Ira Walker as our newest MDA National Ambassador and are grateful to have him share his incredible story of independence, strength and empowerment," said Scott Wiebe, Director, Community Programs, MDA. "Ira has been a dedicated ambassador, representing MDA with distinction. MDA National Ambassadors play an integral role in furthering the mission of the Muscular Dystrophy Association to accelerate research, advance care, and empower the families we serve through their unique voices and perspectives. They passionately share their authentic personal viewpoint to raise awareness across the entire MDA community."

MDA is incredibly grateful to Amy Shinneman and her family for their years of service from 2022 to 2023 as MDA National Ambassador. Shinneman is from the greater Indianapolis area and lives with a type of muscular dystrophy called Bethlem myopathy. Over the past two years she has raised awareness, advocated, and championed the organization's mission through her Humbly Courageous brand that includes a blog series, fundraisers, and social media presence including her Motivation Monday series.

Additional Background

About Muscular Dystrophy Association

Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) is the #1 voluntary health organization in the United States for people living with muscular dystrophy, ALS, and related neuromuscular diseases. For over 70 years, MDA has led the way in accelerating research, advancing care, and advocating for the support of our families. MDA's mission is to empower the people we serve to live longer, more independent lives. To learn more visit mda.org and follow MDA on Instagram, Facebook, X, Threads, TikTok, LinkedIn, and YouTube.