I was born on January 8, 1981, which is also the anniversary of Elvis Presley’s birth. This has nothing
to do with my life other than, the common date provides a few “yuchs” once in awhile since I cannot sing very well nor can
I move like him for obvious reasons, as you will see.
A critical moment of my life came at just 3months. Although
nothing unusual was noticed at my birth, my pediatrician was concerned about my physical, and muscular development; or the
lack of it. There was something wrong! The next 18 months produced anxiety and fear during the relentless medical exams in
all the major hospitals in the northeast. The eventual diagnosis was Congenital Muscular Dystrophy.
being people of great faith and love, accepted me as a gift from God and proceeded on a course of raising me as a normal,
albeit, challenged human being. I was enrolled in an Infant Stimulation Program at the Cerebral Palsy Center of Edison NJ
and was “driving” my first wheelchair at 4 years old.
I have never looked back. (actually I am unable to look back,)
Mainstreaming was the key component to my educational, emotional and social development, Since the Kindergarten I
was enrolled in the Public School system of Piscataway, and aside from a few, “accommodations” such as, a full time personal
aide, special desks, and building access needs, my school years were pretty normal. Except maybe for the fantastic trip to
California and the opportunity “to hang” with Michael J. Fox on the set of Family Ties. Although I was young, I was not too
young to understand how special and appreciated he made me feel. As an aside I have been trying to reconnect with him and
perhaps help him with his trial.
In school, I played Little League Baseball in a Challenger league for 6 years,
I was a Cub Scout, a First Class Boy Scout, I played in the Middle School Band and the Jazz Ensemble as a drummer. It is hard
to picture me doing this if you only judged me by my appearance. In fact during my 8th grade year I received an award from
the Governors’ Special Arts Competition and I received the prestigious Band Director’s Award.
was often an honor student and narrowly missed the President’s Academic Honor Society by percentage points. I was disappointed.
However missing that close proved to me I was succeeding on my own talents and initiative not on special considerations or
The High School years were difficult. My peers were now growing, physically, and socially and I
struggled to keep up, as interests changed from “boy things” to “guy things” I quit baseball and played
some Floor Hockey, with equipment I designed myself. Hockey became and still is my very special passion. Some of the most
memorable events in my life occurred because of Hockey and especially the New York Rangers. Three occasions particularly noteworthy
was the personal tour of the Ranger’s Locker Room in Rye NY by the then coach Colin Campbell, an autographed stick given
to me by Wayne Gretzky, and having my 16th birthday announced by Sam and JD during a Ranger Game on MSG Network. I have been
blessed with many, many other encounters like these, with the Yankees, Giants, even Notre Dame and Lou Holtz himself. As sensational
as these times were, most of my life was mundane and -- you know -- High School.
It was at the latter part of
my high school days when things became different. My friends were driving, dating, playing on the Varsity and I continued
to have more and more physical challenges. Although I had spinal fusion surgery to correct severe Scoliosis, when I was in
2nd grade, my head and back still needed support. As a result of continuations of my orthopedic aggravation, in order to function
and stay independent I had to be fitted for a brace that covered me from the pelvis to the head. I handled this pretty well
since my main concerns were getting a Prom Date and getting into college; in that order.
This is true. For most
of 12th grade a rumor was circulating around Piscataway HS and other schools that I was going to my Senior Prom with none
other than Tyra Banks, the super model. This was not true. However I did go to my Prom, formal suit, limo and all with someone
as beautiful as Ms Banks, if not as famous.
At the wrap up of my High School days, there was my participation
in an engineering project sponsored by F.I.R.S.T. and a few awards and scholarships: received more for hanging in there and
achieving a high level of perseverance than for scholastic or athletic achievements. The most significant and immeasurable
reward I received came in recognition of the extra effort I put in just to be “regular”. It was the roaring, completely
spontaneous and unanimous standing ovation, I received when my name was announced at graduation. Not to be outdone by my fans,
I gave them my famous “spin move” right on the stage.
The summer brought acceptance into Rutgers University
and more significantly my decision to become a member of the People of Hope, a Covenant Catholic community. This decision
has changed my life. From this association, I have harvested more real friends, support and blessings than I have ever had
in my life. With the constant presence of support from my family, my community and my God, I strive and work as a typical
college undergraduate, to get through class, grow spiritually and continue to grow as a man. I aspire to one-day work in the
film industry in some creative capacity, which can only be enhanced by the unique circumstances of my so-called “normal”
Joshua Matthew Paul Gonder
Joshua Matthew Paul Gonder
January 8 1981 - June 1 2002
The Original J-Walk was organized to provide
Josh with the necessary funds for a unique bed to enable him to receive more quality rest, thus giving him more vitality for
his daily living. The J-walk was originally scheduled for June 1, 2002. Because of schedule conflicts, J-Walk organizers decided
to move the event ahead one week to May 25th. At the J-Walk Josh thanked everyone for their participation, and said,
do this again next year, but for somebody else!"
Ironically, or perhaps providentially, Joshua died the morning of
June 1st, 2002, at approximately 3AM!
May 25, 2002 the J-Walk. This event was initially intended as a specific fund raiser for Joshua Gonder. Individuals
12 years old and above were invited to walk a designated route in Peapack-Gladstone New Jersey, which if concluded to its’
entirety measured approximately 26 miles. Application forms and medical clearance forms were issued as well as Sponsorship
records. The participating group consisted of 102 individuals who garnered nearly 300 sponsors willing to help Josh.