Ashley Gray doesn’t let obstacles define her life and what she can accomplish, rather she believes that ultimately she will be measured by who she is and what she’s done with what she’s had to work with.
Gray, 27, hosts the “Awesome Ashley” show which is taped monthly for public access television in Biddeford. She has a legion of devoted followers that follow her on Facebook and never miss her program when it airs.
Born with cerebral palsy, a developmental disability that affects movement, posture and coordination, Gray takes her health issues in stride and says she confronts each day with a cheerful attitude and the desire to make her life a worthwhile adventure.
“What I try to express on television is that those who are disabled can do the exact same things others can, just in a different way,” Gray said. “I tell people to never give up, take challenges as they come and want to inspire people to do the same thing.”
Despite using a wheelchair to get around, she lives an active life and embraces pursuits that others might shy away from.
“I love adaptive skiing and go to Sunday River to ski a lot in the winter,” Gray said. “I also like surfing, four-wheeling and have done the Dempsey Challenge, a two-day, non-competitive run, walk, cycle fundraiser hosted by actor Patrick Dempsey.”
She’s also hosted a fundraiser for Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital in the memory of her late friend, Nick Paquette and traveled to Disney World in Florida for a vacation.
She started working at Biddeford’s Public Access TV station while still attending Biddeford High School and when she’s not hosting her own program, Gray assists Public Access Director Steve Pulos with titles and graphics for other shows being taped in the television studios on Pool Street.
Being the host of her own show is quite a task for Ashley, who helps to book guests and has to come up with questions to fill her 45-minute episodes, all while keeping the conversations flowing and ensuring the subjects for her interviews are comfortable.
“I originally wanted a place to volunteer and something to do after school,” Gray said. “When I started I was as nervous as nervous can be, but through experience I’ve gotten much better at it.”
According to Gray, being a successful TV host is really about connecting with her guests and knowing what questions the audience would like to know more about from those she interviews.
“I’ve found that each show depends upon your guests,” she said. “Once in a while it’s like pulling teeth when they’re not very talkative. But I tell them to imagine that this is their living room and we’re just having a normal conversation. Through the years, I’ve learned how to frame questions.”
Since graduating from high school in 2009, Gray estimates that she’s taped more than 110 episodes of “The Awesome Ashley Show,” which covers an array of topics of local interest and recognizes the challenges facing disabled residents.
“I just enjoy bringing awareness to the public about people with disabilities,” she said.
Taping the show during the last year or so has been especially tough for Gray.
“My favorite uncle, David Austin died and he was a big supporter of me,” she said. “I also was diagnosed with lupus and I was in the hospital dealing with that. But I try to keep going and not let it get to me.”
Pat Conway, Biddeford Public Access TV administrative assistant, said Gray is always smiling and makes everyone around her feel good.
“Ashley’s done more than many of us have ever been able to do,” Conway said. “She’s such an inspiration and wonderful person to be around.”
Through hosting the show, Gray has gotten to know radio personality Mark Curdo of WCYY in Portland and he’s been a guest on her program and introduced her to Portland rappers Spose and Myles Bullen.
“Mark also helped me to meet singer Andy Grammer in Portland and that was one of the thrills of my entire lifetime,” she said.
Her TV show has many loyal viewers who sometimes stop and say hello when they see her out in public.
“At the Saco Parade of Lights this year I was there on the sidewalk watching the parade and some people recognized me and told me they never miss ‘The Awesome Ashley Show’ and that made me feel really good,” Gray said.
As far as her future plans go, Gray said she hopes to continue to host her TV show as long as she is able to do.
“I try to have a great attitude and go with the flow,” she said. “I just tackle things as they come along. I have a drive inside of me to help others and hope my story helps someone else.”
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