Originally written for the Abilities Expo

In 2006, I was shot in the neck leaving me paralyzed from the breast line down. As anyone with SCI can tell you, life inexorably changes in an instant, leaving you to forge a new path from the one you thought you were on. My path is ongoing and, while it started in violence, it has led me to many opportunities to support and inspire my new community. In one of my more recent ventures, I’ve created Wheel Talk Wheel Issues, an online talk whose content is for, about and by people with disabilities. But, first, here’s how I got here…

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Remaking My Post-Injury Life
It took about a year after my injury to fully engage in outpatient rehab. After being released from the hospital, my main focus was to regain custody of my three children who were under my sister’s care for the four months I was an inpatient care.

Once I regained custody and we were finally living in our own home, I began to home school my kids. Being paralyzed from the chest down and homeschooling three kids, who in turn took on the role of being my caregivers, was more than difficult. It was very isolating for all of us. All we had was each other and, well, me…I had a talk show called The View. Watching, The View was like having friends sitting in my living room. It was my only outlet, but the topics didn’t really relate to what I was going through as newly injured SCI.

Once I finally started outpatient rehab, I discovered that there was more to life as a wheelchair user than just the hard work it took to bathe me, get me up and dressed every morning, bathroom struggles, and then back to bed every night. As I learned about adaptive living and started meeting other wheelchair users, a social worker at the hospital where I was doing rehab told my kids and I that I would one day ski and become a peer support adviser. As exciting as that sounded, I honestly didn’t believe the words that were coming out of her mouth

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My Community Outreach Begins
I continued in my rehab and I found myself sharing with others what I was learning. I joined a peer support group and became a peer support adviser. Eventually, I would write a peer support adviser program, go skiing, surfing, sailing, dancing, and continue to challenge myself with new adventures, and at the same time I shared my experience with others.

One day my pastor, Pete Contreras, suggested I start a ministry. I was very new in my walk with the Lord and I didn’t really know what a ministry was or how it worked. My kids asked me, “What are you going to call it?” (I also didn’t know that a ministry needed a name.) I stepped out in faith and Blessed with Life, a faith based peer support program for individuals with disabilities and their families, was born.

We would meet once a month to support each other and share resources related to disability. Every once in a while, we even planned fun adaptive outings. The problem with weekly group meetings is transportation and health setbacks. Even as the leader of the ministry, I found it difficult to attend every month and still balance homeschooling three kids, my health and figuring out how to get to our meetings. Eventually the ministry stopped, but my friends still wanted my support, still enjoyed my speaking and wanted to continue receiving my prayers.

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Regrouping to Prepare for Something Bigger
I gave myself a two-year break to work on myself and discover ways I could continue to grow as a person in order to help others. I went back to school and I am currently pursuing a degree in Communications at Grossmont Community College. During this time I continued with speaking engagements and, whenever possible, my friends follow.

During my time of rest I reflected on all the outreach I have done in the past. There were so many projects—collecting gently used medical equipment, food ministry, workshops, peer support, advocacy, Ms. Wheelchair California, becoming a youth leader, bedside hospital visits and more. I had done too much all at once. I knew I had to focus on the one form of outreach that had the most impact, and I knew it was my speaking. There is something very powerful about my story that draws people’s attention. It’s not the intrigue of the tragic story that captivates people the most; it’s my perseverance and my “Just roll with it” attitude that keeps people engaged and wanting more.

Knowing how powerful my speaking is, I had to figure out the most convenient way to bring my 10 years of experience as a wheelchair user and peer support adviser to people who can’t make a weekly meeting or my speaking engagements. Initially, adapting to life as newly SCI can be the most difficult years of your life. However, in my 10 years I’ve met other wheelchair users who have never walked and still share the same struggles: perceptional barriers, ADA issues, dating and sexuality, depression, isolation, accepting my body the way it is, “too pretty to be in a chair,” staring and many more “tragic flaws.”

Then, I remembered the comfort my favorite show, The View. It illustrated how easy it was to simply turn on the TV and watch! I wanted to do something like that for wheelchair users, with a little twist. I wanted to bring to the table issues that were related to and inspired the wheeling community. I wanted to introduce them to guests who could share their experiences, struggles and successes as a wheelchair user.

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This is NOT Your Usual Talk Show

Wheel Talk Wheel Issues a dynamic, 30-minute to an hour weekly podcast which is broadcast online through Blog Talk Radio and, starting in 2016, will have its own on YouTube channel. It’s a three part series; English, Spanish and Faith-based. I host the talk show as Ms. Hot Wheels, a nickname my friends gave me after I had my first power wheeler custom-painted with flames and lightning bolts.

Our mission is to inform, inspire and create awareness regarding issues related to life as a wheelchair user. Almost all of the guests on Wheel Talk Wheel Issues are people who utilize wheelchairs for their mobility and experts in their fields who discuss the full spectrum of issues related to advancing the independence of people with disabilities.

Listeners can call in with questions and even share their own experiences regarding the show topic. People can leave their comments on Wheel Talk Wheel Issues Facebook page and share the archived show link with their friends in case they missed the live show. Tune-in to the live broadcast every first, second and third Friday morning at 11:00 am PST.

We welcome show topic suggestions, look forward to your comments, and hope you will be a caller or guest on our next show. In our first 2016 show, we discussed the tips on what to do in a case of a very wet emergency as a wheelchair user.

Margarita Elizondo is a motivational speaker, entrepreneur, producer/host of Wheel Talk Wheel Issues, model, author and an ambassador for the Los Angeles Abilities Expo. She was paralyzed in 2006 after an intruder broke into her home. Now, a single mother of three and grandmother, she pursues a degree in Communication at Grossmont Community College, and works for Axia Management where she designed a wireless phone service for seniors and individuals with disabilities. As Ms. Wheelchair California 2013, she is a strong advocate in the disability community and volunteers for numerous nonprofits. You can follow her @Ms_Hotwheels on Twitter and Instagram, or reach her on Facebook or through www.margaritaelizondo.com.