If you’re feeling low energy and need some inspiration to exercise, you might want to watch Sundance Channel’s reality series, Push Girls. Now in its second season, these beautiful four women who have been paralyzed by illness or accident, continuously motivate themselves to stay physically active, despite being in wheelchairs. Tiphany, Mia and Auti are paraplegic, while Angela is a quadriplegic, with limited use of her arms and hands.
We spoke with these courageous women who talk about their stories and how they stay fit.
1. Angela Rockwood (@angelarockwood)
Her story: In 2001 Angela’s life was practically perfect. “I was about to marry my soulmate, I bought a new house, signed with a modelling and acting agency. One week before 9/11, I was in a horrific car accident that left me paralyzed from the neck down.”
Q: You modelled from a young age. How has that affected your outlook?
A: It was really bad because of the image that the modelling world portrayed when I was involved, about being thin…it was very sick and unhealthy and I actually got out of the business, trading it in for a more healthier lifestyle and became a fitness instructor and learned martial arts and racing motorcycles. I was already active before I was paralyzed. After that happened, I was transported to a whole new new world. I remember thinking, ‘OK, let’s just get this going and adjust to my new life’. And I remember my ex-husband saying to me, ‘whoa, let’s slow down. You really need to look at this as a full time job, and make staying in shape, trying to walk again as a full time job. That’s your goal.’
But it didn’t stop me from living out my dreams. I pushed forward. Today I am a Push Girl, actress, model, producer, ambassador for the Reeve Foundation, life coach, disability advocate, dedicated philanthropist, spokesmodel for Ti-Lite wheelchairs, artist, innovator, martial artist…but when you pull all the illusions of titles away, I’m a human being passionately living this thing called life…knowing that life is truly a gift and what we do with it is our gift back to the world!
Q: How do you stay in shape?
A: I stay fit with my state of mind because without peace in your being, everything else is imbalanced, creating chaos mentally, emotionally and physically. This inner peace is attained through meditation, prayers, positive affirmations and continually being grateful for what I have in my life. As for my body, well…I have studied nutrition and been on every major ‘food regimen’ since I was fifteen because of modelling.
Training wise, I choose to be in a manual wheelchair instead of a power chair as much as I can to keep my body moving and burning calories. I have lost 65 pounds since the beginning of my accident. I know staying fit definitely begins with what you eat and put in your body regardless if you can move or workout. But because I’m a martial artist by spirit and was a gym rat, I try to get exercise or personal training through friends and trainers by doing ‘out of the box’ training that is combined with upper body Muay Thai drills similar to boxing, to basic stretching from yoga, and dancing or shadow boxing for cardio.
I’m pretty intuitive to what my body wants and if it desires certain things, I don’t deprive it. I believe the body is the temple for the soul, so you have to take care of it!
Q: What are your eating habits like?
A: Through the years, until I was 30, I re-educated myself about food as a ‘way of life’. Today, after being a strict vegetarian for almost seven years, I now consider myself a pescatarian (someone who eats fish but no other meat). I love vegetables and rice. I always try to eat a well balanced diet containing a certain ratio of protein, carbohydrates and vegetables similar to the 40/30/30 diet. I try to eat my fruits separate from my foods, because it retards the digestion process and don’t combine liquids with my meals for better absorption. I don’t really eat many desserts due to the sugar, but have a weakness for hazelnut chocolate and tiramisu. I am a foodie and appreciate quality over quantity.
Eating every three to four hours helps to keep my metabolism burning efficiently and allowing me to have sustained amount of energy. I stay away from medications and pain pills and live a very holistic lifestyle to the best of my ability. Lots and lots of water is important to me, not just for the body but also for my skin. I drink at least four to six cups of herbal tea a day and stay away from caffeine as much as I can.
2. Mia Schaikewitz (@MiaSchaikewitz)
Her story: Mia, a former competitive swimmer, was paralyzed at age 15 due to an AVM (arteriovenous malformation) rupture in her spinal cord. “My only symptom was severe stomach pain in which I went to the hospital for. On the X-ray table, I realized I could no longer move my legs. Later, an MRI showed an AVM had ruptured resulting in a permanent spinal cord injury. At the time, being an active teenager and athlete, I thought getting paralyzed was the worst thing to have happen to me. Soon, I realized I could still do everything I did before, perhaps differently but still enjoyably. Today, I appreciate the experience as the best thing to have happened. It opened up my world and has given me a chance to know myself on an even deeper level. I have learned there are no limits to what is possible in life.”
Q: How do you stay fit?
A: In the first season, the girls went skiing and this season, it’s all about proving what else we can do. Staying fit is directly related to my mindset so I make sure to establish peace of mind daily through mindfulness. I treat my body well knowing it’s the only one I’ll ever have. I try to stay active everyday with some sort of physical activity. Even if it’s just getting a 10 minute push around the block. Being outdoors is great. I think if you listen to your body naturally, it really does crave exercise. So I just go for whatever physical activity it wants.
It’s very natural for me to want to do something physically almost every day. I usually do like to do something athletic in every sense of the word and so I try different sports. Some of that is documented this season.
Q: Do you adhere to any specific way of eating?
A: I believe our bodies communicate with us on what it needs. I really listen to what my body is telling me when I crave something healthy and how it feels when something is not benefitting it and I act accordingly. Food avoidance diets don’t work for me. Equivalent results of a diet that lasts is when my desire to take care of my body as a whole comes from a healthy state of mind.
3. Tiphany Adams (@tiphanyadams)
Her story: “I was a senior in high school, a major rebel. Leaving a wakeboarding event, I was in a head on car collision with another vehicle being driven by an intoxicated driver. Everyone in the crash was pronounced dead on the scene, until I made a faint sound in the back. I was pulled from the wreckage and was the sole survivor of the accident. In the hospital, I was given a five percent chance of survival, but with my optimistic views and spiritual beliefs, I pushed forward knowing I had a higher purpose to fulfill in the world.”
Q: What is your fitness routine like?
A: I really love being in nature and doing cardio. We all try to roll around as often as possible. I do strength training and a combo of yoga, pilates and dance moves. I still go to the gym a lot, especially when we travel a lot with the show. I also have done strengthening aerobic lengthening classes that work on the muscle.
There are so many things you can do in your home with every day items if you don’t have time to go to the gym. For example, you can do bicep curls with a gallon of water or canned food. Using a chair, you can work your triceps out. I’ll do little things like parking in far away parking spots so I get more cardio. I love a class I do called SALT (strengthening aerobic lengthening techniques), which is a mixture of aerobic and core strengthening, a bit of pilates, it really has a little bit of everything. It sculpts your body.
Q: Are you just as serious when it comes to your nutrition?
A: Obviously nutrition is a huge component as well – I am vegetarian, and I try to avoid things like gluten, trans fat, and highly processed foods. And I try to maintain a diet of natural produce. [On matcha tea:] It’s pure green tea leaves completely crushed down to a green tea powder. So you are actually getting all the anti oxidants from the entire leaf instead of just steeping it from a tea bag. I feel really energized from it!
4. Auti Angel (@autiangel)
Her story: In 1992 Auti was in a car accident that left her paralyzed.
Q: You have been very active from a young age. How did this come to be?
A: My father moved us to Torrance [Los Angeles] in hopes of following the footsteps of Bruce Lee by taking classes conducted by one of Bruce’s teachers. This is where my real journey to success would begin. He fell deep into martial arts training, meditation and a completely healthy lifestyle. Since my mother was my father’s biggest support system, she too followed closely and became an aerobics instructor. My sister and I were swept into this amazing form of living by force and tried to rebel against it at any chance we could. However, we were the healthiest ones in our neighborhood.
Q: Was your father also strict when it came to food?
A: My father cut out fried, sugary, salty and any unhealthy foods out of our household. As a kid and teen, you long to fit in with others and once you’ve tasted, you crave. I was born with a naturally fast metabolism that allowed me to eat and drink whatever I wanted, unlike the struggles that my five-year-younger sister would face throughout her whole life.
[At 43] I am now learning to understand my sister’s struggles with weight with a whole new respect. I now have to watch what, when and how I eat. I took this one thing for granted just like I had done with the ability to walk.
Q: How do you stay fit these days?
A: I dance my wheels off every moment I get a chance to. It is the most fun form of exercise for me, which makes it less burdensome. When something is so difficult, we tend to start off gung-ho but then lose interest. Dancing is a fun way to shed and keep the pounds off. The minute I start dancing, I begin to tone up, fat begins to burn! People have asked me ‘how do I stay so thin in the chair?’ And the answer is dancing. It’s never something I will ever give up!
If you gain weight, you go buy a new dress. If we gain weight, we have to buy a new chair, and they are very expensive. People ask us all the time why don’t we use a manual chair versus a power chair. But I am far more active using the manual chair. If you don’t use it, you lose it.