JBR Honoree Taylor Gray

Since first grade, Taylor has fought JA. Now a young adult, she’s helping other kids.

Optimism keeps 22-year-old Taylor Gray looking toward the future, especially with her December graduation from Michigan State University, where she will earn a bachelor’s degree in organizational communication and pursue a career specializing in nonprofit work. It’s the perfect fit for a young woman who has spent her life helping other children with a chronic illness she knows all too well.

The 2020 Jingle Bell Run young adult honoree was diagnosed with polyarticular juvenile idiopathic arthritis before her first birthday, after months of painfully swollen knees that prevented her from walking. Diagnosis and treatment at the University of Michigan set Taylor on the path to wellness, allowing her to play multiple sports in high school and earn the varsity captain position on her lacrosse team.

While she’s back to using medication to stabilize her illness after brief periods of medicated and full (non-medicated) remission, Taylor credits looking for the bright side in everything to keep her going, no matter how small.

“It’s a disease that no one wants, but you have to look at the people you meet, the experiences you have and all the good that comes from it,” she explains.

Taylor is grateful for the strong connections she’s made through the Arthritis Foundation, participating in her first Jingle Bell Run and Walk For A Cure events as a toddler in her stroller.

She built wonderful memories at Camp Dakota, an overnight camp for children with juvenile arthritis, and returned year after year, moving through the ranks from junior counselor to team leader. She’s attended multiple national JA and Champions of Yes conferences, served on the national rheumatology patient board and is an iPeer2Peer mentor for newly diagnosed kids ages 12 to 17.

On her downtime, Taylor loves being outdoors, camping with her father, Kevin, her mother, Molly, her brothers, Kyle and Colin, and their recent four-legged addition, border collie Duffy (named after MSU head football coach Duffy Daugherty).

With her positive attitude and JA community supporting her, Taylor is ready for her next step in life after college. She is dedicated to continuing her mentorship for children who are just beginning their juvenile arthritis journey. “It’s about paying it forward,” Taylor adds.