If you need a shot of inspiration, a dose of courage, or a kick in the butt, tune into Push Girls on the Sundance Channel Monday nights at 10:00 p.m.
The show stars Angela Rockwood, Auti Angel, Tiphany Adams, and Mia Schaikewitz, four hot, fearless friends who, through accident or illness, are paralyzed from the neck or waist down.
Forget the Real Housewives of New York, Atlanta, Beverly Hills or anywhere else. If you want to come away feeling good, filled with gratitude for your life and ready to tackle the world, Push Girls is it.
Angela, Auti, Tiphany and Mia’s motto is “IF YOU CAN’T STAND UP, STAND OUT” and boy do they. These women know who they are and they don’t waste one moment feeling sorry for themselves. They are fully engaged in life. That’s something we can all stand to remember.
Here’s a taste of what you can expect from the show.
Now meet the girls and hear some of their incredible stories:
“I was 23 and an overachiever,” says Angela Rockwood who was at the top of her modeling career and about to sign with a record company.
“I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off, too proud to ask people for help. I never lived in the moment. I always focused on the future or looked to the past at what I didn’t accomplish or how I wasn’t good enough. I was that gym rat in the gym three hours every single day. I almost had the perfect 10 body and I still struggled to be perfect.”
Three years after eloping with Dustin Nguyen, an Asian heart throb who had appeared years earlier on 21 Jump Street with Johnny Depp, Angela decided she wanted a big wedding. On September 4, 2001 she and two friends were returning to L.A. from San Francisco where they had gone shopping for bridesmaids dresses when their car crashed into a mountainside. One of Angela’s friends was killed and she was thrown 20 feet out a side window where she sustained a broken neck and a severed spinal cord which left her a quadriplegic.
Doctors gave her a 3% chance of regaining motor skills and feeling below her neck. She underwent intense physical therapy and two months after the accident she regained partial motion in her left index finger.
“I learned from Dustin to be in the moment. I was in the rehab facility and the gentleman next to me had the same exact injury except he was hooked up to a ventilator. I thought, He can’t breathe on his own and I can. Right there it hit me that I needed to focus on what I had, not what I didn’t have.”
In 2003, Angela was the third American to receive stem-cell surgery in Portugal which she believes helped her to move from a power chair to a manual wheelchair.
“Now my body is atrophied; my arms are very thin; I’ve got my little “quad” belly; and my legs have lost all their muscle tone. But I look at my body now, and I love who I am! I’m so comfortable in my skin, which I wasn’t before. I embrace everything about who I am and what I’ve gone through.”
That includes the pain of letting Dustin, her husband and soul mate, move back to Vietnam, the country he fled as a boy. Dustin took care of Angela for many years and though they still love each other, they have decided to live separate lives. When you love someone unselfishly you want what’s best for them, and Angela has that kind of love for Dustin.
The reality is I shouldn’t be here, so even though I may not be able to move my body the way I want to, I’m grateful that that I’m still in this vessel, still able to communicate and share my experiences and live this moment because tonight’s not promised. Ten minutes is not promised. Tomorrow isn’t promised.”
- Angela Rockwood
“What was I thinking sweating the small stuff? It was such a waste of energy looking in the mirror freaking out about what I ate. Oh my God, that’s 358 calories and it’s going to go to my hips; I’ll have to work out two more hours on the treadmill to make sure I’ve got a 4-pack.
“Where was my mind? I was missing out on life. Don’t get me wrong. It’s hard. I’m a quadriplegic. I’m paralyzed from the neck down. I cannot be left alone. I have to rely on someone taking care of me, but since the accident I have more to give as an individual. I’m a female, I’m an Asian-American and I deal with paralysis. I have three minorities against me.
“So what! Let’s take that and let’s make it amazing. Let’s use what we have to the best of our ability to give back to the world. We only have this moment. I stress that so much because I’ve passed and come back and I just really cherish life to the utmost.”
“I was J.Lo before there was J.Lo,” says backup dancer/singer/actress Auti Angel with a laugh. “I toured with different rap artists and was about to sign a record deal as part of an all-Latin female hip hop group.”
But life changed in a moment back in 1992. Auti was driving home after performing with LL Cool J at the Grammy Awards when a driver clipped her on the 101 Freeway and she swerved out of control and hit the center divider head on. Her spinal cord was severed leaving her paralyzed from the waist down.
Even though Auti, who was born in a tough L.A. neighborhood, was told she would never walk again, her philosophy was “Once a dancer, always a dancer. The spirit of dance never dies, no matter what happens to your body.”
“I went to rehab and they taught me to become dependent on the wheelchair. But then I learned my first wheelie trick and I knew I didn’t have to let the chair control me any longer. I was born to be a dancer which is why I can still dance sitting down.”
She’s made incredible strides within the hip hop industry proving that her wheelchair, which is decked out in silver chrome and leopard fabric, is not a crutch. She’s now learning new Salsa moves and tricks to teach her Colours n’ Motion dance team.
God never gives us anything we can’t handle. No matter what obstacle may come your way, it is ‘Overcome-Able!’ It’s important to love ourselves. If you’re not dead, there’s got to be a reason why you’re still alive, so live life to the fullest and fulfill your purpose and your destiny.”
Auti, who is 42 and still wants to have a baby with her husband, started the non-profit organization “Save A Soul Foundation.”
“My goal is to have a youth center that provides resources and training for different trades to at risk kids who are disabled and able-bodied. The idea for “Save a Soul” came to me when I spoke at the L.A. Central Juvenile Center and I heard God’s voice say, ‘Save a soul. Once you save one soul, that soul saves another soul, so it repeats itself.’
“Life often seems unfair forcing some people to make difficult decisions about how to live their life. It takes commitment, determination, and patience to get through the rough times, especially when it seems easier to give up, but I am a rolling miracle and a follower of my heart’s desires.”
Auti can be seen in the romantic movie Musical Chairs.
On October 16, 2000, Tiphany Adams was a 17-year old high school senior who dreamed of becoming a model when a drunk driver going 130 m.p.h crashed head-on into the car she and two friends were in.
Her two friends were killed and Tiphany who had been pronounced dead on the scene was in a coma for three weeks. “When I woke up, I was like, ‘I’m going to get through this, and I’m going to live my life to the fullest.” Tiphany returned to school in six months and graduated with her class.
Today Tiphany is focused on becoming a fitness model and designing a clothing line called “Wheely Famous.”
I hope to shatter stereotypes and let the world know that you can triumph over all the tragedies that fill you with despair. I believe in prayer and meditation, in ‘ask and you shall receive.’ I choose to make an impact through love. With love you can connect with everyone beyond the facade of the exterior.”
- Tiphany Adams
“Nothing is too challenging when you believe anything is possible as long as you have faith,” she says. “I guess the only bump in the road would be with labels. People put too much emphasis in categorizing individuals. I am full of love. I will not label my sexual orientation or allow people to put me in a box. I enjoy and love people for who they are on a soul-to-soul level and not because of their race or gender. My motto is to be the light to those in darkness and the hope to those lost in despair.”
It was October 27, 1993 when 15 year old Mia Schaikewitz, a rising star on her high school swim team developed a pain on her side so sharp that it woke her up. By the time the doctors did an MRI the next morning, she could no longer move her legs. An Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM) had ruptured in her spinal cord leaving her paralyzed from the waist down.
“At first I was devastated; I thought my life was over. I even wrote in my journal, ‘I’ll never go out in public again,’ and I cried for two weeks straight. That was the darkest part, but also the catalyst for me to realize that’s not a way to live.”
She was inspired when the doctors reassured her that she could live independently, have children and participate in adaptive sports.
“We learn to be reborn again,” she says about the three months she spent in rehab. “From sitting up in bed to getting dressed, you learn everything over again, and it seems daunting at first. But as you continue taking baby steps, you start to feel a sense of accomplishment.”
The day Mia graduated from college, she loaded her wheelchair in the back seat of a friend’s car and drove out to L.A. She’s now a project manager for a graphic design firm.
It was Angela who invited Mia to be a part of Push Girls. Mia signed on even though she describes herself as an intensely private person, partly to shatter stereotypes about the disabled.
“People think we can only date people in wheelchairs, that we’re lucky to get any guy, that we can’t be picky,” she says, but she loves her freedom so much she doesn’t want to settle down with just anyone, and her preference is for able-bodied men who can keep up with her.
That can be hard to do. In one episode Mia parks her shiny black Mitsubishi Eclipse in front of her graphic design office in Pasadena. She looks glamorous in her black leather jacket and purple eye shadow with matching fingernail polish. She opens her car door, lifts out her wheelchair and assembles it in 20 seconds flat.
The chair is sporty, like her car, with a leopard-patterned seat that matches her purse. “I’ve got another chair at home that’s red and silver.” According to Mia, it all depends on her mood and what she wants to wear. Her wheelchair is almost like an accessory.
The degree of challenge is all relative. At one point I thought getting paralyzed was the greatest challenge for me. Now I feel like it’s the best thing that has happened to me. My viewpoint now doesn’t see it as a challenge; it feels like a great experience in life leading to the ultimate self-growth.”
- Mia Schaikewitz
In addition to her successful career, Mia is a member of Auti’s Colours n’ Motion dance team. She is currently focused on returning to competitive swimming and she also spends time giving back to the community through her sponsorship by Colours Wheelchairs and donating to Wheels for Humanity, an organization which brings refurbished wheelchairs to people in developing countries.
Nothing is off limits on the show including questions like ‘Can you have sex if you’re paralyzed? Can you have a baby? How do you go to the bathroom or bathe?’ But the show is really about realizing your potential in this very moment.
Who inspires you? Who do you think exemplifies someone who lives life to the fullest despite obstacles they’ve had to overcome? I’d love to hear from you.