Being a prominent member of the community, Professor of Mathematics Justin Gash has had to face adversity, obstacles, and find courage throughout his life battling through a rare condition known as multiple epiphyseal dysplasia. Yet, this has not stopped Gash from achieving success and being valued throughout Franklin College.
Gash has been a member of the Franklin College family since 2008. He is a part of the math department and has recently been assigned the role of assistant dean. In this 36-month post, he will be responsible for assessing, improving, and tweaking the liberal arts curriculum through assessment.
Assistant Professor of Mathematics and Computing; Director of the Math Study Center, Angie Walls has been a close colleague at Franklin College to Justin throughout the years.
"It's nice having him in the administration because he brings this really big picture, critical thinking to the table as a mathematician. Like thoughts about how technology should be used or what is best for our students," said Walls.
Throughout the early years of high school, Justin was in choir and had aspirations to try out for the show choir team. The day before auditions, the program instructor said she didn't think Justin should try out.
"At that point, I was more than a little peeved because I spent a month and a half preparing for my audition," said Gash
"I'm one to try to work with people on common ground, and I understood the issue. I had a lot of friends in show choir, so I didn't want to cause problems. But I did want her to evaluate me because I spent six weeks working on a song." said Gash
Justin waited two and a half hours after school the day of his audition; the show choir teacher completely forgot about him.
Yet, Justin had no intention of backing down. He persisted and reached out to her for rescheduling and finally got the audition that he had been wanting—nothing more than an utterly fair chance.
Halfway through the audition song, the show choir instructor exclaimed that she had seen enough.
"She never actually got me the comments back from her evaluation, like ever, and I still had her in class for three more months," said Gash.
After try-outs were over, the team didn't have enough guys to compete. The teacher let in a few guy students who never had any affiliation with choir before and did not meet any of the requirements. Justin still never got an opportunity to see if he could do it.
The following year the winning school of a competitive show choir contest had a participating student in a wheelchair.
"So, I mean, there have been times where I've been prejudiced against. Truthfully though, honestly, most of my life people have been very helpful," said Gash.
The disease stunted much of the growth in Justin's bones and has led to over 23 surgeries so far. Thirteen of them occurred through his adolescence. After reaching adulthood, much of his operations are now for routine maintenance on the body.
Gash described how he deals with much of his pain through the workweek.
"I have trouble standing for long periods of time. Walking is easier, which is how I get away with it in the classroom. It's constant, consistent weight-bearing that's the most difficult for me. Supporting my physical fitness is really important to my overall health."
Walls never had the realization that Gash was ever really in pain.
"We found out that he was in terrible constant pain, but we only found out because his wife shared it with us. By the way things were going day to day, meeting with him, talking with him, working with him, we would never have known. He didn't necessarily want to let it be known." But he never let his disability stand in the way," said Walls
Wall describes that for Justin's 21st surgery, they had a party at Justin's house like it was a birthday celebration.
"They threw a party at their house like a 21st birthday party. We had beer and pizza and played poker," said Walls. I thought, what an excellent way to put that spin on it, not a lot of people could do that," said Walls
Fellow alumni from Franklin College and now a math teacher at Whiteland Community High School, Derek Linn expressed a time when he and six others took one of the most challenging classes in college with Gash.
"It was a three-hour class, and we were spending about 20 hours a week outside of class, But I think a huge compliment to him is the fact that none of us complained like we just kind of were like, hey, this is a tough class we don't want to disappoint Dr. Gash," said Linn.
Yet even with the difficulty there were no complaints or feeling sorry for themselves.
"Another factor as to why none of us complained about how hard the class was and how much homework he was giving us was because we all saw what he was dealing with on a daily basis."
From a new position in his career to a new member of the family, there have been many changes in Gash's life over the past couple of months. Christian was recently adopted by Gash and his wife, Andrea.
"Andrea and I are looking forward to exploring that part of ourselves. We wanted to be parents when we got married, and it didn't work out. We sort of grew some distance from that, and it was okay. But now that we have the opportunity, I'm learning more about myself, and hopefully, it makes me a better man," said Gash.
Walls expressed how happy she was for Gash and his wife were adopting.
"I tell you what, when Andrea told me that they had filed the paperwork to adopt him at homecoming, I cried because I know how much this has meant to them over the years and how they've wanted to adopt him for his whole life. I am so thankful because I think I had kind of given up on the idea," said Walls.
Christian enjoys being on his school wrestling team. There are valuable life lessons in being a parent with a child that's competitive.
"I look forward to seeing Christian grow into the young man we know he can be. Seeing that potential achieved, seeing him turn disappointment and failures into improvement as well as celebrating his successes,” Gash said. “You can already see that just with wrestling. He's clearly gotten better. He still loses, and I told him that for me, the most important lesson he's going to get from wrestling is learning how to lose because that skill is freakin transferable everywhere."
Going through trials and tribulations in life is inevitable. Gash faces obstacles while keeping a positive outlook.
"My high morale was formed through the crucible of my surgeries. You can't go through the surgeries I went through, some involving eight weeks in a body cast. You're just in a bed; it is unproductive to be pissed off. It doesn't make your life better. I developed a lot of patience and a lot of willingness to put up with discomfort," said Gash. "Of course, now the front line, warrior. The Intrepid Valtteri of goodness that is at the front of this is my wife, Andrea. I am blessed beyond measure to be married to her."