2023 The River & The Rock Perseverance Award Recipient

"In the confrontation between the river and the rock, the river always wins...not through strength but by perseverance." - H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Learn more about Gabe and how he has persevered his whole life.

  • Year: 2023

  • Who: Gabe Ortell

  • Award: $2,500

  • Program: The River & The Rock Perseverance Award

Gabe's Story...

A poem from Gabe: Farewell Walking

I miss you.
I always wanted
you back.
Now that you're gone I'm devastated.


Rounding 1st base
on my way to
second. It's
a home run.
Sliding into home
Walking then running
Flying like the wind...I miss you

Accepting it
fast, faster
I go, having fun
Zooming by, see
ya later alligator.

Everyday there is
a challenge that I
face. I left you
in the past. I miss
you everyday but
I know the day 
will meet again
farewell walking


From Gabe's Mother, Jyl, on her amazing son:

Gabe and many of the boys and young men with muscular dystrophy are resilient in their handling of the many changes their muscles go through with this disease.  They are courageous in how they handle these many changes by moving forward in creating a fulfilling life for themselves and their families. They persevere through their ability to manage the very difficult changes in their body despite their continued growth mentally and emotionally. They persevere through the loss of the ability to walk, the loss of the ability to hold their pencils or the ability to hold their heads upright. Life is not fair, life is not easy for anyone. And still they persevere through the challenges of this disease and life’s many changes.

Gabe is a vibrant spirit! He makes friends everywhere he goes. It’s hard to walk into a store or go to an event where he hasn’t made new friends from the time he walks in the door to the time he walks out. Every year I’m amazed at the many lives he’s touched.

As Gabe has gotten older and really come into his own, he continues to look outward at those around him and how he can help them in their journey.

He showed courage when he rolled up the 3 stories to the top of a tower surrounded by alligators. He was strapped into a harness, and he flew over the top of those alligators to the other side without knowing who was on the other end to catch him. He didn’t know how he was going to get his chair on the other side or if he was going to be able to stop when he got there.

Outside of the normal courage to step out his door each day with DMD knowing things will be difficult, he shows courage by speaking to people he has never met and asking them about their jobs, lives and challenges. He finds ways to help others and is persistent in finding a way to help them.

While you have 3 words to describe the receiver of this award. There are so many other words that describe Gabe. He is generous…

He put together a fundraiser for MDFF last year at basketball games. He came up with the idea. He made the signs, he asked the school, he was persistent with the school to allow him to set up his table at the basketball games. He had to get permission from the school board to allow this fundraiser during a time the school had stopped all fundraising after the COVID epidemic. And...

  • He takes treats to the fire houses and has made friends with the Fishers Fire Fighters.
  • He’s given numerous prizes he’s won to children who have less.
  • He helped put together bags for the homeless. His church friends and he made over 2000 meals for the homeless here in Indianapolis.
  • He helped put together bags with essential items for people who had been removed from their homes during the wildfires here in the US.
  • When he was just 5 years old he joined our family in setting up a games area for children and families that would come to the free Thanksgiving meal.
  • He helped our church at the Indianapolis Pride booth this summer where he shared with individuals that the love of Christ is for everyone not just those that conform to the norm.
  • He participates in medical trials to help other boys who are born with DMD. He knows it may not help him but wants to find a way to help other boys not have to struggle with their disease.
  • He is currently working on growing herbs for his local nursing home kitchens to provide healthy meals to those who live there.

These are just a few of the many ways Gabe gives back to his community. He is loving, kind, thoughtful, crazy, silly, helpful, perseverant, courageous, and resilient. He gives his time and energy to help others. 

More About The River & The Rock Perseverance Award

The award is a gift from the Nicholoff Family that experienced first-hand the importance of a positive attitude, determination, and perseverance while fighting muscular dystrophy.

Read about PJ Nicholoff who is saving many lives 

Learn more about the award application process