Five years ago at the University of Alabama, Tandin Dorji gave his first inspirational speech. He was just 19.
Dorji, who was diagnosed with juvenile spinal muscular atrophy type 3 five years prior, was approached by a college coordinator who asked him to speak to a group of people with muscular diseases.
He agreed, and as he made his way to the exit, Dorji noticed a poster advertising the Muscle Walk for the Muscular Dystrophy Association that would jump-start his involvement with the nonprofit health agency.
Today, the 24-year-old Colchester resident, who is a semester away from earning his master’s degree in biostatistics at the University of Vermont, was selected as one of two MDA Ambassadors for Vermont.
In his new role, Dorji makes public appearances statewide, representing people with muscular dystrophy and other severe muscular diseases and motivating the public to support MDA’s mission, according to a press release.
“My main goal is to be able to go into a big corporation and advocate for people with disabilities,” Dorji said.
Although he believes smaller functions are vital for the agency, Dorji feels he is ready to help MDA meet its goals on a larger scale.
“I have helped at a community level for a while,” Dorji said. “So now I am actually trying to get a little bit above so I can spread the word about what I’m doing.”
When he moved to the Green Mountain State in 2015 to begin his master’s program, Dorji was instructed by his doctors at the MDA clinic in Alabama to continue seeking services at the clinic in Vermont.
There, he met Kevin Box, a family care specialist at the MDA working throughout Vermont and eastern New York.
After their first encounter, Box thought Dorji was a good candidate for an MDA ambassadorship and urged him to apply.
The application process, which Dorji started at the end of 2015 after a friendly reminder from Box, includes basic questions about traveling abilities, public speaking experience and past MDA fundraising participation.
Social media campaigns have become the go-to fundraising method for Dorji, who is a three-time consecutive MDA Circle of Strength member – an honor given to people who raise $500 or more annually.
His fundraisers have garnered donations from the global powerhouse Monsanto and top-notch nonprofits like the Bill Gates Foundation.
The latter portion of the application addresses how potential ambassadors have coped with their own neuromuscular diseases. From there, Box reviews applicants and selects who he think fits best.
As he steps into his new role with MDA, Dorji is also optimistic about his future in the public health field.
After he graduates in May, he hopes to combine his interest in math and science by working for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“My research right now is on virus spread and antibiotic resistance,” Dorji said. “And since [the CDC] is global, they have all those data sets from around the world that I can be working with.”
Two weeks ago, Dorji applied for an open position in the organization. If he gets it, he’ll have to relocate to Maryland – a process he has become familiar with, as he has never lived in the same place for longer than five years.
“At the beginning it takes a little bit of time, but after that it goes easy,” Dorji said.
But no matter where his career takes him, Dorji said he will continue to focus on spreading awareness about muscular dystrophy.
“Sometimes it may be visible, sometimes it may not be visible,” he said. “But there shouldn’t be a limit just because someone has a neuromuscular disease.”