It’s happy hour in Los Angeles and cocktails are on the way as four glamorous women discuss sex, overcoming breakups and toasting life—all while being filmed for their own reality TV series called Push Girls. Sound familiar? Not exactly, for this is not a reality spin on Sex and the City, nor does it mimic the unseemly catfights of the Real Housewives. Instead, it pushes beyond. The Sundance Channel’s new hit show Push Girls offers a refreshing perspective on women who defy stereotypes and celebrate their deep connection with each other. The series, which premiered in June, invites viewers to roll through the everyday lives of this fierce foursome of BFFs who endure trials and tribulations with family, friends, lovers and life, but with ample amounts of spunk and humor.
Reality-TV pioneers—Angela Rockwood, Tiphany Adams, Auti Angel and Mia Schaikewitz join ABILITY Magazine’s David Zimmerman and Chet Cooper for an interview. Angela is a model, actress, producer and an ambassador with the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. She is described as “Buddha-like” and is the “Mother Earth” of the foursome. Tiphany, the blond bombshell of the group, has an uncensored mouth and an open, honest nature. She loves sex with her partner—man or woman—and doesn’t like labels, unless they’re on a new outfit. Auti is a firecracker. She heads her own dance team, Colours ’n’ Motion, as well as the Save a Soul Foundation. She appeared in the film “Musical Chairs” and has danced alongside artists such as, L.L. Cool J. Mia is a down-to-earth beauty and an account manager in a marketing firm. She’s also a competitive swimmer and a proud, independent woman who is looking for a man to share her life. She tries to teach through both words and actions—and now, of course, reality TV.
David: Why a reality TV show about the four of you?
Angela: Why not? First of all, the name started with the Sundance Channel. It’s an amazing name, especially since it represents who we are and how we overcome everything that gets thrown into our path. We just push through it, push the limits and the boundaries.
Mia: Since we have lived in LA, a lot of us have gone on auditions for certain wheelchair roles that never seem to fit, and I think it’s because they’ve always continued to play on these stereotypes that aren’t necessarily true. So, this is the perfect platform to be able to break those stereotypes. It’s about us. It’s about reality, about our real lives, and that’s how people are going to connect with us most naturally.
Tiphany: What’s funny is, I was just talking to my little niece, who’s four, and she said, “Titi, why is the camera in your face? Why is it following you?” And I said, “You know, your Titi’s in a wheelchair, and a lot of people don’t understand why Titi’s in a wheelchair. You know how she drives her car and you know how she goes swimming and you know how she does those things? Well, some people don’t understand and don’t think it’s possible.” The show is totally about opening people’s eyes and letting them see that we live life just like they do, only we do it sitting, which is a different perspective. I call us chicks in chairs.
Angela: I had the beautiful honor and blessing of meeting Gay Rosenthal [Push Girls executive producer] through a mutual friend named David Horowitz. Basically, when she asked me what I wanted from the show, I said it wasn’t about me. It was about my girlfriends. Being friends with these three women has been a blessing. It’s been so powerful in many ways and on many levels. I shared with Gay the importance of getting this out there and showing the world what it’s about, and not just to educate but also to remind others what life is truly about. We want to inspire people to do their best and push through anything.
Chet: So, were you all in acting class? How did Push Girls come together?
Angela: At my first Christopher & Dana Reeve
Foundation benefit, in Laguna Beach, CA, I met this wonderful man, Mr. Tobias Forrest, who was actually being awarded the Reeve Foundation scholarship. He turned to me and asked, “So, what do you do?” I said, “I used to model and act.” And he said, “What do you mean, used to? You can still model and act.” He had a facility that he worked at where they hire people in wheelchairs to act; they’re not just able-bodied people pretending to be in wheelchairs. So anyway, I was introduced to David Zimmerman. I rolled in, took his class. And that was seven years ago.
Chet: Has anything changed since the airing of the show—anything from old friends contacting you to “You’re the girl on that new reality show!”
Angela: I am married to Dustin Nguyen from 21 Jump Street, so I’m used to people coming up to him. When I was in New York, we were leaving a club and this girl came running after me. “Excuse me, excuse me!” I turned around and she says, “You’re on that show Push Girls! You’re the model!” And I said, “Yeah.” With excitement she said, “Can I get a picture with you?” Then I turned to the camera and in my head I’m thinking, “Wow, all over the world, women in wheelchairs are probably going to be getting stopped and asked, “Are you on that show Push Girls?” (laughs)
One reporter asked, “So, are you guys prepared for fame?” Without a beat I leaned into the mic and said, “Were we prepared for paralysis?” Bruce Lee said it very well. He said, “Superstar, that word is an illusion.” We were doing this before, but because of the show, we’re able to share our story and able to touch and inspire on a bigger platform and actually reach more people.
Chet: Where did you do the screening of your first show?
Angela: The Push Girls screening was held at the White House. The amount of press they had us doing was ridiculous. I did some of my interviews from my hotel bed. Tiph was in the car for one, the park for another, and another time I think she was in H&M. We did Good Morning America, came back to the hotel, changed and went to a Christopher & Dana Reeve luncheon. Then, we ran off to Jane Fonda’s red carpet event, went back to the hotel, changed and finally ended up going to our premiere. The hotel concierge was probably thinking, “Oh my gosh, these girls just don’t stop!”
Chet: Can each of you explain your injuries?
Angela: I am a quadriplegic. I was planning my wedding in San Francisco with my maid of honor. I was coming back to LA after Labor Day weekend. I was sitting in the back seat. My girlfriend lost control of the car, because we were going around a turn on I-5. She tried to correct and she overcorrected. The car spun out of control, and the impact pushed me forward. I shattered my C4-C5 vertebrae and severed the spinal cord. The car proceeded to flip four or five times and I was catapulted out of the little triangle window. I flew about 30 to 32 feet, where they found me lying on the side of the road, face down. When I woke up in the hospital, the doctors told my fiancé and dad that I had a three to five percent chance of moving or feeling anything from the neck down. I was rendered a complete quadriplegic for the rest of my life.
Of course, I didn’t take that diagnosis. I didn’t believe in it. I knew I was going to push forward and just try to heal as quickly as I possibly could, so I went in that direction and never looked back. I had stem cell surgery three years later. My accident was one week before 9/11. The stem cell surgery was right before 2004. Bush was running the country, and he wasn’t allowing stem cell surgery here, so I went to Lisbon, Portugal, and Dr. Carlos Lima performed the surgery. I was the third American to have it done, and the 11th patient. At the time, I was in a power chair, and I’m now in a manual chair. I don’t have full sensation, but a lot of sensation came back. I became stronger. If I could do that surgery all over again, I would.
Tiphany: I was a senior in high school and I decided to go to a wakeboarding event that eventually turned into a party. There were thousands of people there. When I left that event—
Chet: Where are you from?
Tiphany: Northern California, born and raised. This was in Lodi, California. I was leaving that event and there was a two-lane highway, Highway 12, which does not have a median in the middle. One of the girls who was at the event earlier in the evening had gotten a ride home because she was too intoxicated to drive, but when she got home, she then got into her car and drove back to the event. Meanwhile, we were traveling eastbound on the way home, and she was traveling westbound, when she passed a semitruck. She passed the semitruck over the double yellow lines, came into our lane and hit us head on at a 130-mile-an-hour impact. The license plates were completely melted together. There were no skid marks.
An off-duty paramedic had driven by and was on the scene. He noticed I made a slight sound and thought that my pinky moved, so they got the Jaws of Life to cut me out of the car, and took me to the nearest hospital. I was bleeding internally, and in a coma for three weeks. They told my father and family that I had a five percent chance of survival by the end of that week. I was flown to Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose, where they did the rest of my surgery, so I had over 24 hours of surgery. The accident happened on October 15, 2000. I woke up in November with a feeding tube and all that fun stuff. I left the hospital December 21 and went back to school in February. I graduated with my class in June and started college in August.
Chet: What degree did you pursue?
Tiphany: I love children, so I was going into liberal studies, child development and psychology. I earned enough units to start teaching preschool and working as a teaching assistant in classrooms. I did that up until I moved to Los Angeles. I haven’t done that in LA, but I would love to do it more. I love working with kids. That’s my story.
Mia: I was 15 when I got paralyzed. I was completely fine one day. Then I had a stomachache and it got bad enough so that I had to go to the hospital. At the hospital, they thought it was appendicitis. It wasn’t until I was getting X-rays taken that I realized my legs felt really heavy. They continued to do tests and couldn’t find anything wrong with me, and they said, “You must be nervous about your swim team physical, so it is probably psychosomatic.” And it wasn’t until the next morning, when they did an MRI, that they found out there was a vein in my spinal cord that had ruptured, causing paralysis. Nerves don’t regenerate, and there was damage to the nerves, resulting in a spinal cord injury. So, from that point on—
Chet: I know there is a medical term for that kind of occurrence. What is it called?
Mia: It’s called arteriovenous malformation—AVM. An AVM is similar to an aneurysm, but it was in my spinal cord where the blood vessel ruptured, leaving me paralyzed. I’m a T6.
Tiphany: My vertebra was fractured at T10, but the nerves were more affected at L3, so my sensory is L3—my movement and stuff.
Auti: I was 22 years old, and I had my accident in 1992. A car clipped the front end of my car and went spinning out of control; then, we hit the center divider head on. I snapped my back and severed my spinal cord at a T10 level. So I’m T10-T12—complete, paralyzed from the waist down.
Chet: The accident, did it cause that metal thing to stick into your tongue?
Auti: Yep, scrap metal fell onto my tongue. [laughter] No, I got my tongue pierced about six or eight years ago.
Chet: When you heard that Angela elected to have stem cell surgery, did any of you think, or have you thought since, about doing some other things?
Auti: I love what it did for her, and if she wanted to continue down that road, I would support her. For me personally, if somebody offered me a million dollars to go get a study done and even if they said that I would have a 99 percent chance of walking again, I would use that million dollars to help somebody else out instead, whether in Third World countries, or our country, with accessibility or things that they might need or want.
Chet: What about two million?
Auti: I would still help others. For me, walking is overrated and I’m comfortable where I am in my life. I love who I am. I love that this is a vehicle and a tool that can touch so many lives, and I know I would not have touched as many lives if I’d never had the accident and been paralyzed. I’ve lived in a chair for people to see: “Wow, she’s overcoming, she goes shopping, she drives.”
Mia: We talk about quality of life, and that is a huge, huge aspect to independence as well as just giving back. With Ang, the stem cell surgery has been a blessing. Just to gain back anything that is going to help her quality of life—I definitely encourage it in those situations. For me personally, I don’t feel like it would enhance my quality of life, to be able to walk. So I don’t think about wanting to walk. In fact, I feel like it’s much more of a gift to be able to inspire other people from afar. People that I don’t even have to talk to or have a conversation with—they may just see me on the street and be affected by it. That’s something I don’t think we can necessarily do if we were back in the position that we were in before.
Tiphany: I have always been interested in stem cell research, but financially it’s costly. I am very blessed and happy with the fact that I have so much mobility and consider my level of injury to be quite low. I look at it as an adventure and a challenge, something to work for. Of course, I’d love to walk again. I loved jumping. I loved doing handstands and handsprings and crazy little jumps. What’s wild is I actually crossed paths with a very close friend of Dr. Lima’s when I first moved to LA. That was about four years ago. Two years later, I crossed paths with his associate who bought me dinner. And then, two years later again, I ran into him at Panera Bread. He gave me the card again, so I thought, “Wow, when the time is right and if something becomes perfected in the stem cell surgery realm, I’m open to it,” but there’s so many different things going on with it right now. When it’s meant to be, it will be.
Auti: Stem cell doesn’t have to be about walking again. It can be about taking the pain away and adding to our quality of life. I think we were more or less thinking that we have quality of life. We don’t need to enhance.
David: So, how did the four of you become friends?
Angela: I met Auti two or three days after I arrived at the rehab facility in Downey, CA, Los Amigos. She was visiting injured patients and I happened to be one of them that day, and she and I connected instantly. And Mia I met four years after my accident. I started this wonderful acting class at my house with this amazing man named David Zimmerman, and Mia decided to take the class, and that’s where I met her. And then Tiph, I met four years ago, two days after she arrived in Los Angeles to be the Marilyn Monroe on wheels. We met on my backyard porch, and there we made a soul-to-soul connection.
Tiphany: And I met all the girls that night.
Chet: Outside of now living your lives in front of cameras, what do you four do?
Angela: I’m a brain on wheels, Chet! [laughter] I model.
Mia: I’m a project manager for a graphic-design branding firm.
Chet: And what do you do, Auti?
Auti: I’m an all-around entertainer extraordinaire—actress, dancer, singer, rapper, producer of music. My husband and I are working on an album right now. He’s a DJ and producer, and we both produce and write music together.
Chet: I noticed you have a pimped-out chair.
Auti: (laughs) I do have a pimped-out chair, provided by Colours Wheelchairs. Tiphany, Mia and I are all spokesmodels for Colours Wheelchairs. Thank God for that. Thank God for new technology.
David: Angela. You talk a lot about manifestations. In fact, I happen to know your nickname has become the Manifestor. What does that word mean to you?
When did you start “manifesting?”
Angela: The word “manifestation,” or being a “manifestor,” as you call me, it’s very powerful. I do believe in the law of attraction, but not just the law of attraction. With me, it started when I was a little girl. I realized that whatever I perceived in my mind, I could achieve. Then, just growing up, I realized that anything that I thought of, even if I thought of an outcome negatively, it would happen that way. If I thought of it positively, I would execute it, and 90 percent of the time it would be positive. So immediately when I got into the car accident, when I woke up in the hospital, I knew for myself, that I needed to go down that positive road. I had to take that route instead of going down the negative path, because if I went down that negative path, or even thought it, there was no one that was going to be able to bring me back.
David: Tiphany, you mention in the description of yourself “no labels.” Why no labels?
Tiphany: Oh, wow. I feel that the world is very comfortable putting everything in a category or in a box and labeling it just to make everyone else feel comfortable. The world’s beyond that. We’re in 2012 now, and we’ve evolved. That’s the one thing in life that’s guaranteed: change. It’s constant. There’s an amazing quote I just came across a few days ago by Deepak Chopra: “Equality is the first step toward acceptance.” Totallyconnecting on a soul-to-soul level and taking away the superficial and just knowing that when this is all gone, we’re spirit, we’re connecting spirit-to-spirit. It’s all an energy exchange. When you cross paths with somebody who’s mad and angry, you’re going to feel those vibrations, and you’ve got to make sure that you don’t take that along.
David: You’re also very health conscious. You eat wonderfully. You take care of yourself. You exercise. Why is maintaining a healthy lifestyle so important to you?
Tiphany: I’m a little bit obsessed with working out and eating healthy foods, because I know how it makes me feel. It makes my body feel well, and it responds well. I know if I’m going to eat a big slice of greasy pizza that it’s going to really make me feel kind of groggy in an hour or the next day. So, I try to eat as cleanly as possible; and working out definitely gets my adrenals going. It just feels so euphoric, because it also makes me completely free, knowing that it’s something I used to love doing when I was walking. It’s a huge part of my life.
David: Watching you do it is having an effect on me. I eat seaweed every day now.
Tiphany: No way!
David: (laughs) I do! I buy it at Costco!
Tiphany: Seaweed—oh my gosh. It’s just so many things! Before, I didn’t used to like some of the things I now eat and indulge in all the time. Now my mind knows, “That has iodine in it. That’s going to benefit my body in this way.” Or whatever the nutrients, I know how it’s going to affect my cells. It’s just crazy. It’s like retraining everything. You can retrain your taste buds. I never ate onions and tomatoes until I turned 19 or 20. Why? Because my father never ate them, so those were the two foods I never had to eat. But other than that, when I was younger, my mom made me try everything. I’m talking alligator, ostrich, buffalo and snake. I had to eat everything. Those [onions and tomatoes] were the two things I didn’t have to eat until I got out on my own and I had my own place and I started cooking myself, and I realized those do enhance food. So now I’m very open to different foods.
Angela: How can you not love her?
David: I tell you, you could turn a gay man straight. [laughter] Mia, Push Girls fans have watched you get yourself back into swimming on the show. What is it about swimming that makes your soul sing?
Mia: That’s a good question. Ever since I was young, I was always attracted to water. It just made me feel peaceful. Water is very fluid; it always adapts. It adapts
Articles in the Push Girls Issue; Senator Harkin — Working for Jobs; Ashley Fiolek — Switched at Conan; Paralympics — Better Than the Olympics?; ABILITY Award — Accenture and Prudential; DRLC — Affordable Health Care Act Benefits; Billie Jean King — Bouncing Back; Joint Replacement — Hard as a Bone; Tourette’s — A Friendly Fil; Geri Jewell — Paper or Plastic; China — Exposing the World; Push Girls — Living Large; Marathon — Horses Help Vets to Heal; John Williams — He’s the Man; ABILITY’s Crossword Puzzle; Events and Conferences…