These girls push the lim­its

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Sandy Co­hen

LOS AN­GE­LES — In the open­ing mo­ments of a new re­al­ity show, a pretty blond pulls up to a gas sta­tion in her sporty Mus­tang. As she fills the tank, she catches the eye of a man across the sta­tion and smiles. Soon she drives away, wav­ing to her ad­mirer as she leaves.

An­other Kar­dashian-style se­ries? Not quite. Around her fu­el­ing and flirt­ing, we also see the woman as­sem­bling a wheel­chair, pop­ping her­self into it and then dis­as­sem­bling the chair be­fore driv­ing off.

The blond is 28-year-old Tiphany Adams, one of the stars of Push Girls, a Sun­dance Chan­nel re­al­ity se­ries pre­mier­ing Mon­day, June 4, that takes view­ers into the lives of four beau­ti­ful wheel­chair-bound women.

All par­a­lyzed through in­jury or ill­ness, Adams and her three best friends — Mia Schaike­witz, 33, Auti An­gel, 42, and An­gela Rock­wood, 36 — are shown nav­i­gat­ing ev­ery­day chal­lenges of all sizes, from putting on makeup to start­ing a fam­ily.

It’s an un­prece­dented look at the lives of dis­abled women, catheters and all, and ei­ther a new high or new low for re­al­ity TV.

“As a com­mu­nity, we say we want to be treated like ev­ery­one else. Well, ev­ery­one else has a re­al­ity show,” said Paul Tobin, pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of United Spinal As­so­ci­a­tion, an ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tion for peo­ple with spinal cord in­juries. “These aren’t the Mob Wives.... My be­lief is that Push Girls will help dis­pel pre­con­ceived no­tions by show­ing peo­ple liv­ing their lives and en­joy­ing the same things as ev­ery­one else, just a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ently.”

The Christopher & Dana Reeve Foun­da­tion, an­other spinal cord in­jury ad­vo­cacy group, is pro­mot­ing Push Girls and join­ing with Sun­dance Chan­nel to raise funds for re­search. Reeve Foun­da­tion pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive Peter Wilderot­ter called the show “a me­dia mile­stone.”

“It truly is re­al­ity and it’s bring­ing home what it’s like to live with a spinal cord in­jury,” he said. “With these women’s sense of style, sense of hu­mour, and sense of who they are and what they’re go­ing through, the por­trait is re­ally im­por­tant be­cause I think most peo­ple don’t re­ally think about what life is like in a chair.”

Push Girls star An­gel never did. A pro­fes­sional hip-hop dancer who toured with artists such as N.W.A. and LL Cool J, An­gel’s spinal cord was snapped in a 1992 car ac­ci­dent. She was par­a­lyzed from the waist down and has used a wheel­chair ever since.

“Be­fore my car ac­ci­dent, when I was an able-bod­ied per­son, I never met a per­son with a dis­abil­ity,” she said. “So I would be in the same boat with the view­ers, like wow, they can have kids? And they don’t marry other peo­ple in wheel­chairs?”

An­gel al­lows the cam­eras to eaves­drop on her pri­vate con­ver­sa­tions with her hus­band about hav­ing a baby, one of the show’s on­go­ing story lines.

Pro­ducer Gay Rosen­thal said she was in­spired to make Push Girls af­ter meet­ing Rock­wood, a model and ac­tress who be­came a quad­ri­plegic af­ter a 2001 car ac­ci­dent.

“I was re­ally taken with her,” the pro­ducer said. Then she met Rock­wood’s best friends and “it changed my life.”

“This is why I do what I do,” she said. “They’re more able bod­ied than some able-bod­ied peo­ple. They’re so in­spi­ra­tional.”

Schaike­witz said her paral­y­sis at age 15 from a rup­tured ves­sel in her spinal cord is “the best thing that ever hap­pened to me, for rea­sons that I am able to open some­body’s mind by do­ing an ev­ery­day nor­mal ac­tiv­ity.

“I don’t even have to con­verse with some­body,” she said. “They see me pump­ing gas and that changes their day. To me, that is a huge gift.”

For Tiphany Adams, the woman at the gas sta­tion, the se­ries tells the world she still has what it takes.

“It’s about aware­ness. It’s about show­ing you that we are coura­geous and we still have power and that en­thu­si­asm for life,” she said. “We still love shop­ping. We still love flirt­ing our wheels off.”

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