By Tristan Marks
Gillian Mauro is no stranger to struggle.
As an athlete, it is one of the things that defines her lifestyle: the struggle to maintain and grow her fitness, the struggle to triumph over fellow competitors.
However, 10 years ago when the Grimsby native was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), she was introduced to a struggle that would change her life forever. Although it would prove to be painfully physically, emotionally and mentally,
Mauro would find some relief in sharing her story and refusing to give up on what she loved.
“Sports has always defined my life from a young age,” said Mauro. “As a young girl I turned to soccer as something to help give me confidence after being bullied throughout elementary school.”
She eventually took on competitive figure skating and hockey by age 12.
Sport was even something that ran in Mauro’s family. Her brother, Jamie Mauro, played for the Grimsby Peach Kings hockey team and her father, Ron Mauro, was president of the Grimsby Tennis Club.
Through him, Mauro became involved with her greatest passion, tennis, by joining the Grimsby club.
“It became a major part of my life and shaped my competitive life,” she said. “I even met my first husband, Joel Cruz, there.”
Then in 2010, at age 23, Mauro’s life was forever changed. She was diagnosed with MS, a disease which attacks the nerves in the spinal cord and eventually led to her losing the ability to walk.
“Ten years is a long time to have your life turned upside down,” said Mauro. “I was very negative about what was happening to me, but it started to change when I began writing.”
About five years after her diagnosis, Mauro’s then-husband suggested she start writing about her condition. Mauro said she had always wanted to be a writer, but kept putting it off.
“He told me my writing could benefit others, and I think he was surprised when I started writing the very next day.”
Mauro began to write a blog, braverthanyourbattle.com, and post videos on youtube. These posts shared her struggle with MS and the pain and depression that came with it. It was her way of not just informing others of what it’s like to struggle with the disease, but also to encourage others going through their own struggles.
“I want to be an inspiration for anyone going through MS or anything else,” explained Mauro. “Everyone has a battle, right? Everyone has dark days and situations they find hopeless.”
Mauro said that while the pain will never go away fully she’s no longer hopeless.
“My outlook changed when I saw this quote on Facebook: “There’s always someone who would love to have your bad days”,” said Mauro. “It resonated with me. It helped me stop asking “why me,” and pushed me to help make the best of my situation.”
Mauro adopted this quote as a sort of personal motto, which she said helps her keep perspective even during bad days.
This perspective has helped her “grieve her old life,” but also continue forward.
In the past five years Mauro has become a mother, has returned to sports through wheelchair tennis and, most recently, has published her own book.
Her book, The Girl in the Wheelchair (It’s Not That Bad), was just released this past July after a two-year writing process.
Mauro tells her story through the autobiographical book, from her early childhood to her diagnosis to today. It shares how her greatest fear at the time came to pass when she lost the use of her legs and how she learned eventually to come to terms with it.
“That subtitle, ‘It’s Not That Bad’ is key,” explained Mauro. “For the longest time it was the worst case scenario. There were some days I was done with the appointments, the treatments and the wheelchair, but you can’t be done. You have to keep pushing.”
With her book published, Mauro said she will continue to publish on her blog, play wheelchair tennis and, most importantly, raise her son, Landon, whom she says has become a “crazy good” tennis player himself at age five.
She thanks her parents for their constant support.
Gillian Mauro’s book, The Girl in the Wheelchair, can be ordered online through Amazon.com.